Submitted by rroth on Wed, 12/04/2013 - 13:57.
Growing up in Bakersfield California where there was only a handful of Jewish families, gave me my first taste of being an ambassador for Judaism. From a young age I loved to share Hebrew songs at my school assemblies or bring dreydles and latkes to school for Chanukah. It was my mission to break down the stereotypes about Jews, and I set about it with determination. It was only natural that when I took up my first position as the Cantor of Temple Shalom in Dallas, Texas, I would continue as an ambassador for Judaism in the Bible Belt. There I began building bridges by organizing interfaith programs around holidays like Thanksgiving and MLK. Learning about other faiths in their environments, listening to pastors inspirational messages, and sharing music with people of diverse backgrounds really spoke to me and ignited my desire to learn more and to encourage dialogue to promote understanding and acceptance. Breaking down the stereotypes about Judaism and what we are all about forged relationships which changed my life and the lives of others involved in these endeavors. We began to see each other as more similar than different, with more in common, and with many reasons to join our resources in reaching common goals. One of the outcomes of the joining of these communities was the building of several Habitat for Humanity Houses, a project that would never have come to fruition without our community interfaith gatherings.
When I moved to Des Moines to become the Cantor at Temple B’nai Jeshurun, a local Music Minister invited me to help her create an Interfaith Choir and I jumped at the chance to continue building bridges between faith communities. It was for the Diversity Chorus that I began writing music that might be suitable for people of all faiths and backgrounds, in Hebrew and in English. This song “Reaching For Peace” was sung by our multi-denominational choir and united us all in a common theme of peace: http://youtu.be/8pcayQxaa3A
Another important program that brought us all together in Des Moines was an Interfaith Holocaust program called “Through the Eyes of the Children”. I had noticed that while there was great Jewish Holocaust programming every year, there was nothing going on in other faith communities. By inviting the leaders of over 10 faith communities to plan and participate in the program, we not only raised the awareness and education about the Holocaust in the non-Jewish community, but we also gave voice to many who had previously been silent about their stories and memories of the Holocaust. It was a powerful and deeply meaningful program which sent ripples of understanding and compassion throughout the city.
Over the years, sitting in church and listening to Gospel choirs and their inspirational style influenced me to write songs that are a hybrid of Jewish and Gospel music. I felt it was important that when I worked with choirs of other faiths, they should feel comfortable singing in a style that was familiar and accessable. This song, “Behold How Good”, was written to be sung by both Jewish and non-Jewish choirs and the congregations who gathered together. The message of Psalm 100, “Hinei Ma Tov”, behold how good and pleasant it is for people to dwell in peace, is a theme that everyone can relate to.
Over the past 10 years, I have continued my outreach to the Baltimore and DC area communities. By traveling to churches I have forged many lasting relationships with talented and gifted Music Ministers, Pastors and choirs. Tony Small, Artistic director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of D.C. is a talented composer who has collaborated with me on 10 Martin Luther King Shabbat celebrations . This song, “God Will See Us Through”, was inspired by Tony’s unfailing faith in the Almighty and his powerful influence on so many young people in our community.
Lori Williams, conducts the Wilson High School Senior Choir and I travel to her classroom to work with her ensembles which come to our Temple every year. My most recent Jewish Gospel anthem, an English Shalom Rav called Grant peace, was written for the Wilson HS Choir and is featured in our yearly Martin Luther King Shabbat. http://youtu.be/VN-FB67rVgE (watch video)
Through the sharing of worship and song, Interfaith Programming forges and nurtures relationships and friendships, breaks down stereotypes and hatred, promotes understanding and acceptance as well as the message of peace and hope. It is my prayer that we continue to reach out and build bridges to those around us in order to nurture the bonds that unite us, and the common values we share. In this way we can truly work toward making our world a better place for all the peoples of the earth.
Lisa Levine is the Cantor of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, MD. Her compositions are widely published and her book Yoga Shalom is published by URJ Press. Temple Shalom’s Martin Luther King Shabbat is the recipient of the 2014 Men of Reform Judaism Congregational Interfaith Grant, made possible by funding from the Jewish Chautauqua Society, Men of Reform Judaism’s interfaith education project.