Lasting Interfaith Event a True Blessing By Rabbi Judy Chessin
This year marks our 30th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, a three-decade partnership among Christ United Methodist Church, David’s United Church of Christ, St. Charles of Borromeo Church, and Temple Beth Or. How did this practice begin?
In our early years, new members Steve and Areve Alexander came to Temple Beth Or with great commitment to their Judaism and an incredible passion for volunteering. What many never knew about Steve was that he was a well-known freelance photo-journalist for newspapers, news agencies, magazines, and television.
Steve filmed the riots after the integration of ‘Ole Miss’ (University of Mississippi) in 1961. He was one of the photographers who on-site snapped a famous photograph of Jack Ruby shooting presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. (In some of the photos of the Dallas Police Headquarters that day, you can actually see Steve!) He also covered the police riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Steve had an unerring eye for the greatest and most momentous events in the Civil Rights Era.
But his vision was more than from behind the lens. Steve envisioned Temple Beth Or as a leader of interfaith cooperation. He spent many months in 1988 seeking members for the creation of a Catholic/Jewish/Protestant partnership. He dreamt of hosting an ecumenical service at which we could celebrate our shared values and give thanks for our many blessings and freedoms.
The first Interfaith Thanksgiving Service was held at Temple Beth Or in 1988 with Christ United Church and St. Charles. David’s United Church of Christ joined in our partnership in 1989.
Steve and Areve Alexander moved to Massachusetts in the 1990s, and Temple Beth Or’s loss was Temple Shir Tikvah’s (Winchester, Massachusetts) gain. In 2008, I wrote to congratulate Steve on our 20th ecumenical celebration. Steve responded:
“I am elated to hear that the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service has continued for 20 years. It is rewarding to see a project that I was instrumental in starting be continued for so long by others. My congratulations are extended to all who have kept this important event a vital part of the various faith communities.
“Bringing people of different faith traditions together to celebrate and give thanks to God is important. This service is a wonderful vehicle for fostering better understanding and appreciation of others’ approach to their different liturgies of celebration and worship. I wish I could be there to celebrate this anniversary and join in giving thanks for what we have in common as people in faith communities.”
Nor can Steve be with us on our 30th Annual Thanksgiving. Sadly, he passed away after a long illness in 2012. However, his vision lives on and we will remember him every time we gather with our friends and neighbors in unity and gratitude.
This year, we have expanded our vision and have sought to include members of the Muslim community to our circle as well. Our service will take place at 7:30 pm Monday, November 20, at St. Charles of Borromeo. Because I am the only clergy still present from among the original officiants, I have been asked to give the homily. I will certainly be giving thanks for and remembering Steve Alexander–a true visionary.
What is your vision for Temple Beth Or? Is there a program or project that you would like to see happen? Our congregation’s best achievements have come from the hopes, dreams, visions, and efforts of our members and volunteers. If you have such an idea, please let us know. Together we can create a lasting legacy not only for you, but for our beloved Temple community as well. To paraphrase the visionary Theodor Herzl, “If you can envision it, it is more than a dream!”
Rabbi Judy Chessin