Manna rains on Marblehead interfaith project

 

Pictured left to right: Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby

When Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby from Clifton Lutheran Church first met at a Marblehead Ministerial Association meeting last summer, they both sensed a spiritual connection that went beyond them being among the youngest in the room.

“His church and Temple Sinai have a lot of similarities,” said Cohen-Henriquez, who is known as “Rabbi David” to his congregants. “Both are small. Both are in Marblehead. And both are dealing with contemporary theological challenges where people are not going to services like they used to. We are both striving to find ways to engage the new generations.”

Bixby, who congregants call “Pastor Jim,” grew up in Miami next door to many Panamanians, and he was fascinated when he found out Cohen-Henriquez was born in Panama. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I know anyone from Panama who is Jewish, let alone a rabbi, let alone a man with a hyphenated last name and a gift for storytelling,’” Bixby said with a chuckle.

The two spoke at length and realized their connection ran deeper than congregational size and demographics. Both aspired to engage their communities into social action while connecting personally and spiritually with their neighbors of different faiths.

Bixby learned of Temple Sinai’s decision to focus its social action on homelessness and of its support for Lynn shelters. He shared his church’s emphasis on helping recently arrived refugees and immigrants at Lynn’s New American Center.

With both congregations committed to providing food for marginalized people in need in Lynn, the two spiritual leaders decided to combine forces.

The result is “The Manna Project,” a joint mission with three components: a pulpit exchange, a Harvest Festival, and a food-packing event to benefit the needy in Lynn.

The September pulpit exchange was a huge success. Bixby addressed a Friday night Shabbat service and Cohen-Henriquez spoke at a Sunday morning church service. Both events drew congregants from both communities and thrilled the two clergymen.

Cohen-Henriquez had been in churches before, but had never been to a Sunday service, and certainly had never spoken to a congregation from a Christian pulpit.

The similarities between the two traditions impressed him. The Lutheran selected reading (similar to the weekly Torah parsha) during his appearance happened to be about the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, known to Jews as the parting of the Red Sea. He captivated the churchgoers with midrashim that retold familiar biblical stories in ways outside the traditional Lutheran framework.

“Seeing people react to these stories that fill in the blanks, appreciating and rediscovering treasures that were already there, was really satisfying,” Cohen-Henriquez said.

The communitywide Harvest Fest, timed to coincide with the end of Sukkot and Oktoberfest, was a fund-raiser with vendors, games, and food, which both communities prepared and sold together. Shepherded by Temple Sinai Executive Director Susan Weiner, and Clifton Lutheran Church UpReach Council member Pat Small, the event raised $2,000 toward its $5,000 goal. Each dollar raised buys a meal for a family of four.

To fill the fund-raising gap, The Manna Project will sell tickets for a monthlong daily raffle in January. Bixby and Cohen-Henriquez went to local Marblehead businesses soliciting donations. (“Seeing a pastor and a rabbi entering your store must be like the opening of a joke,” Cohen-Henriquez said with a laugh).

Both were struck by how generous the business owners were and by how much they appreciated seeing clergy from different traditions work together.

The Manna Project’s third and capstone event is a food-packaging gathering on March 4, which will involve both communities’ social action committees and many volunteers. “We will need as many hands on deck as possible in order to get out the 3,000 to 4,000 meals we hope to prepare. Many hands make light work!” said Small.

In the meantime, both the pastor and the rabbi are positive their collaborations will not end with The Manna Project.

“Our communities are getting to know each other. We even see our missions as intertwined,” Bixby said.

“It’s a consciousness that transcends how you pray,” echoed Cohen-Henriquez. “There are many more things that bond us than separate us.”

For more information on The Manna Project, call Temple Sinai at 781-631-2763 or Clifton Lutheran Church at 781-631-4379.

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For Two Local Synagogues, Inclusion Is a Priority

 

Inclusion

Transition to Work graduates.

 

 

Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) in Swampscott and Temple Sinai in Marblehead were among the dozens of synagogues that applied for Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RISP) grants in 2016. They both were selected and on May 23, they will be among the nine 2017 Cohort of RISP Congregational Partners welcomed and recognized at the annual CJP “Celebrating Inclusion” event.

 

“We are very excited to be working with two synagogues on the North Shore this year and are very interested in regional collaboration,” said Molly Silver, who manages the partnership between the CJP and RISP. “Being inclusive is a sacred and holy imperative of Jews and this project helps synagogues realize their own unique vision of inclusion.”

 

For over a decade, the Ruderman Family Foundation philanthropic mission has emphasized disability advocacy and inclusion. Its newest initiative, RISP, awards $5,000 grants to synagogues in the Greater Boston and North Shore communities to help fund programs that ensure that all people, including those with profound disabilities, are able to participate in congregational activities.

 

RISP started as a pilot program in 2013 with just three Boston synagogues.

 

Sharon Shapiro is the daughter of founder Morton E. Ruderman and a Ruderman Family Foundation trustee. As Community Liaison, she is in charge of all projects in the greater Boston and North Shore areas, including RISP.

 

“There is a group of people who are not coming to synagogue because they feel there’s nothing there for them,” she said. “RISP raises awareness for inclusion in general, but specifically for people with disabilities because that is the focus of our foundation.”

 

Silver was particularly struck by Temple Sinai’s and CSH’s strategic and thoughtful Inclusion Action Plans and ambitious goals. “What stood out about their applications was a deep and profound desire among both communities to be a “kehillah k’dosha”, a holy community that strives to welcome everyone who walks through their doors.

 

Rabbi Michael Ragozin hopes CSH will become fully inclusive of children with disabilities and their families. “It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of rejection that families, seeking to raise their children in a Jewish community, families whose children will thrive in a Torah environment, have experienced,” he said.

 

Beyond the letter of the grant, he also hopes CSH will become even more inclusive of interfaith families, the LGBTQ community, households with varied incomes, and individuals experiencing mental health issues.

 

“Inclusion is a clarion call to honor the uniqueness of each one of us,” he said.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez agrees. “To be able to reach and kiss the mezuzah, to be able to drink water or go to the restroom, to have access to the bimah and the Torah, to be able to read and hear the services are things we might take for granted,” he said, noting many others in the community might not be as fortunate.

 

Both synagogues have formed Inclusion Committees with ambitious and concrete goals and plans for the coming year. Amanda Clayman and Michele Tamaren co-chair CSH’s 14-member “Shir Lanu: One Song – Every Voice” committee. Deborah Shelkan Remis chairs Temple Sinai’s nine-member committee.

 

Remis pointed to the network already operating for congregants who need rides or meals, have hearing assisted devices or need large print siddurim. “This is just the beginning,” she said.

 

AT CSH, Hebrew School director Janice Knight leads Torah study focused on inclusion as a Jewish value and has invited trainers to work with staff and teens through “Gateways: Access to Jewish Education”. CSH greeters have received training on the use of inclusive language. An accessibility handout itemizes available inclusion support.

 

“We believe inclusion is holy, just and divine. Everyone is welcome and must feel welcome at Shirat Hayam,” Clayman said.

 

Ruderman trustee Shapiro remembers about five or six years ago when someone from CSH with an adult son with disabilities was trying desperately to make changes at the synagogue. “I think it took this project and other families coming forward to make the wok really impactful in the synagogue top down and bottom up,” she said.

 

That “someone” is Marcy Yellin, whose 32-year-old son Jacob is a regular at CSH events and services. “I’m thrilled for Shirat Hayam to be included in the Ruderman Foundation grant. I have great respect for all the things the Foundation does. It’s wonderful to see that people are taking disabilities seriously and mobilizing together to support our most vulnerable, especially in the Jewish world,” she said.

 

She paused for a moment and then added with a smile, “we have waited a very long time for this.”