Sharing Perspectives Through Sharing Pulpits

Adath Israel
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This past summer was a difficult one for Philadelphia’s African American and Jewish communities following the antisemitic social media posts from the city’s NAACP president Rodney Muhammad. In response Bishop J. Louis Felton reached out to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to convene a round-table discussion among the city’s clergy to discuss ways to support and educate each other. One of the relationships forged through this event was between Rabbi Eric Yanoff, of Adath Israel and Copresident of the Greater Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, and Reverend Eric Goode, from the People’s Baptist Church.

On December 5th Reverend Goode came to Adath Israel and delivered a sermon for the congregation on parashat Vayishlach, sharing his thoughts on Jacob wrestling with an unknown assailant and what it means to be living in uncertain times during a pandemic.

Two weeks later Rabbi Yanoff was a guest in Reverend Goode’s congregation for the Sunday service before Christmas speaking about the holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, and what it means to sustain light in dark times. His message, that the time for miracles is over and now is the time for doing the hard work of affecting change, resonated with both congregations.

The relationship has continued with Rabbi Yanoff joining an adult education panel about what the church’s stance on injustice should be rooted in, whether it be based on activism, peacekeeping, or something else, and Reverend Goode coming to a class at the synagogue to talk about a text that is foundational to the identity of both groups – the Exodus story – and its importance in both Jewish theology and the narrative of liberation in the African American community.

The response to these initial programs has been wholly positive. Congregants are grateful to be working toward a greater togetherness between the communities during a time when we can’t physically gather. The initial events brought the clergy together, and now the lay leaders have begun to work together to coordinate a special Purim program that will incorporate the church’s food pantry as a reimagining of michloach manot. The next step is to facilitate more individual connections between the congregants.

Pre-Covid, programming across different religious communities might have been structured as a large special event, or even a conference taking place over a few days, after which participants would largely have returned to their individual communities. However, the constraints that the pandemic has imposed have also allowed Adath Israel and the People’s Baptist Church to approaching the programming in a more incremental and purposeful way. The conversations being entered into over Zoom about what it means to feel fear and insecurity and to have an ally are not the same ones that would occur in a crowd at a large event.

In the Jewish calendar the time between the new year and Yom Kippur is a time for reflection. In the secular calendar the time between the new year and the observance Martin Luther King, Jr. Day can serve the same purpose. We can and should take the changes and challenges that have occurred in all of our lives this past year and use the experiences to inspire a re-examination our communities, our relationships, and our perspectives.

Rabbi Eric Yanoff has been one of the rabbis at Adath Israel in Merion Station, PA, since 2010. He feels blessed to be part of a vibrant, deep, growing synagogue community. Currently co-President of the Greater Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Yanoff grew up in the area, attending Camp Ramah and USY. A cyclist, pianist, and composer, Eric lives in Bala Cynwyd with his wife Dava, and their four children.

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