|Rabbi David Wilfond’s Message – Friday, September 1st , 2023|
Praying with the Baptists
On Shabbes, I prayed with the Baptists. This past Saturday my family joined in prayer at the Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills for the first time. We were the only Ashkenazi Jews present. Though we visibly stuck out, we were incredibly welcomed and made to feel at home with warm smiles and kind words. I’ll confess I am not a regular church goer. We went last shabbat to celebrate with Dr. Karen Blacks her ordination as a Reverend. Some of you may have met Karen while she worked at the Temple this past year. It was a moving honor to read the scriptural passage in the original Hebrew and then translate into English appropriate for 2023.
The gospel choir was transcendent and spiritually lifted us higher and higher. My three young children (ages 8, 10 and 12) sat in rapt attention for over two hours. The crescendo was the laying of hands by all the ordaining clergy. As the only Rabbi present, I hoped to embody a sense of solidarity and interfaith partnership between the Jewish community and the African American Baptist community. We felt welcomed, loved and privileged to see how another community lives and prays with sincerity.
Tragically, after leaving church we heard about the attack in Florida. A neo-Nazi with an assault rifle emblazoned with a swastika murdered three African Americans at random in a dollar store, while we sat in church blissfully celebrating life and hope. Sadly, we live in a time when hate and racism have become common place. Last year I reached out to Reverend McJunkin after the massacre of African Americans in a Buffalo grocery store. He replied, “It is more common than you may realize.” White Supremacy is a shared enemy of Jews and African Americans. It is also a poison that threatens all Americans and the American dream of a pluralistic society.
There is hope. This past Sunday, Shoshana Dweck, a leader on our Temple’s Board, represented our community in D.C. at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and Reverend Dr Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. King dreamed of a world in which people would be judged “Not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He was paraphrasing the Torah that bravely declares “All humans are created in the image of God.”
It is up to us to end the nightmare of hate. If you have neighbors and friends who are African Americans reach out and let them know you care. Let them know that as a Jew you get it, and they are not alone. White extremists are a minority. By our actions and speech, we can send the message that hatred will not be tolerated as “Common place” but must be confronted and marginalized.
60 years ago, King said “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
For 60 years we have repeated the words of the dream. Now it’s time for us to make “The dream,” a reality.
Rabbi David Wilfond