A Curse and Two Blessings: How Two Faiths Share Space this Easter
April 16, 2022
A blessing, followed by a curse, followed by a blessing. This is how I understand the unique relationship between East End Temple and Middle Collegiate Church.
First the blessing: A longstanding friendship. The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church and a renowned public theologian, has been a friend, teacher, and beloved colleague. When white supremacists marched in Charlottesville in 2017, she marched up the street to share the pulpit and words of solace with our synagogue community. When I expressed genuine uncertainty about how to get more involved in racial justice efforts as a rabbi, she taught, shared, and supported my growth. She has shown solidarity and profound admiration time and again with our synagogue community and has been the best kind of neighbor in our corner of Manhattan.
Then the curse: In December 2020, a fire tore through the physical space of Middle Collegiate Church. As the pandemic has lifted, this loss of a gathering place and place of prayer has become especially painful. Our neighbors were rendered spiritually homeless.
Then a blessing: It became evident that our space at East End Temple could provide something of a Tabernacle for the Middle Collegiate Church community as it moved forward with plans to rebuild its permanent spiritual home. None of us from East End Temple could have imagined welcoming a Church to our synagogue – not for a one-time interfaith program, but a recurrent exercise in religious pluralism. I, for one, could not have imagined celebrating Easter in our sanctuary.
Yet, in many respects, Easter at East End Temple embodies the best of both of our communities. Hospitality, “welcoming the stranger,” and helping others get back on their feet reside at the core of East End Temple’s Jewish values. Embrace of interfaith friendships, deep learning, and collaborative justice efforts reside at the heart of Middle Collegiate and its Christian values. We are more fully ourselves amid our efforts to share space.
While I am still only learning about the significance of Easter to Christians, the notion of rising has great resonance for me as a rabbi. Rabbinic Judaism rose from the ashes of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Hasidic Master, Nachman of Bratzlav, poignantly describes a “decline for the sake of a rise” – and that sometimes after falling we can rise higher than before. Our voices rise in prayer.
Perhaps, too, this Easter, we can rise as communities of different faiths, with shared purpose and shared space. My prayer is for Middle Collegiate Church to rise even higher than before – and that East End Temple can play some small part in its ascent.
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