Brooklyn Boro

Religion Newsbriefs for April 25-30

April 25, 2013 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Friends of Christ Church Cobble Hill Sponsors Benefit for Storm-Damaged Building

The future of Christ Church Cobble Hill, which was severely damaged during a lightning strike last July, is at the heart of a benefit Cabaret, “Spring Up: Bizet to Broadway,” taking place this weekend. The story of this historic church that has unfolded since the July 26 storm that claimed the life of local resident and New York State Assistant Attorney General Richard Schwartz and that caused extensive damage to the church, particularly its bell tower, is also one of interfaith solidarity and cooperation.

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The Friends of Christ Church Cobble Hill, a recently formed group whose purpose is to support and participate in the future uses of the historic church, sponsors the Cabaret fundraiser. The host congregation is Plymouth Church, with entrance at 75 Hicks St. in Brooklyn Heights.

“Spring Up: Bizet to Broadway” brings in an exciting cast of singers who have performed nationally and internationally including at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Vertical Opera Repertory, Broadway musicals, the Brooklyn Heights Players and the Canoni Chorale. They have volunteered their talent to support Christ Church. Don Barnum, the Cabaret’s Music Director, organized the event.

“After lightning struck Christ Church last summer, the community was faced with its potential loss. Neighbors have come together to support and restore the church through the formation of Friends of Christ Church Cobble Hill (FCCCH),” explained Gary Ravert, a founding board member of this group.  “We hope this event will serve to inform and involve the many people in brownstone Brooklyn who have expressed concern for this vital historical institution and want it to remain an integral part of the community for another 175 years.”

The building, at Clinton and Kane streets, is undergoing repairs in compliance with the NYC Department of Buildings statutes and code. It has been stabilized in a safe manner and interior and exterior scaffolding has been erected. But the church’s iconic bell tower had to be dismantled.

“Christ Church is one of the handsomest pieces of architecture I know, much admired by many of us,” said Ben Baxt, an architect and FCCCH board member. “But the displacement of the more than 40 community groups who use the church is the true indication of how important Christ Church is to the community as a cultural and social resource, as well as a place for inspiration.”

Father Ron T. Lau, Rector of Christ Church, said he has been heartened by the outpouring of support from the community, including the FCCCH and the clergy and congregants of the neighboring congregations, Kane Street Synagogue and Sacred Hearts-St. Stephens Church. Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s parish hosted the Canoni Chorale’s Lenten Evensong during March. Other churches in Brooklyn Heights took in the 12-Step support groups that had been meeting at Christ Church. And Plymouth Church is hosting Saturday’s benefit.

“We look forward to the day when our beautiful church can be reopened to our parishioners and for cultural and community events; when the sounds of our tolling church bell can be heard throughout the neighborhood, when our majestic church spires can serve as a guide to Cobble Hill and our garden can provide beauty and peace,” said Father Lau.

“Spring Up: Bizet to Broadway” begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 27 at Plymouth Church, 75 Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights. Admission is $75 per person and includes a cocktail hour with dessert following the performances. For information about FCCCH, to purchase tickets or make a donation, go to

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Brooklyn Clergy Offers Reflections On Boston Marathon Tragedy

As Americans sent waves of solidarity, prayers and sympathy to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, at least two Brooklyn clergy have offered reflections in the print and broadcast media over the past week. The Rev. Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest on the faculty of St. Francis College who was in Boston at the time of the bombing, was quoted as part of the New York Times’ extensive coverage. And Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, spiritual leader of Congregation offered a statement on his Sunday program on WINS 1010 Radio.

According to the NY Times article, Fr. Brian Jordan, said he was in Boston to offer a pre-race Mass near the starting line for a group of about 100 friends who were running. The group included Boston firefighters, Massachusetts State Police officers and several Army soldiers who recently returned from Iraq. Fr. Jordan himself is an experienced runner of 21 Boston Marathons.

Heading toward the course to watch his friends finish the race, Fr. Jordan was about a block away from the blasts when they occurred.

He told the NY Times via phone, “I never heard that type of sound before. It was like cannons.”

As he approached the immediate explosion area, he recalled seeing blood and realized that he could more effectively minister while wearing his Franciscan habit. He returned to the firehouse, donned his brown habit and then went back out to help out. “All I could do was try to calm people down,” Father Jordan said. “Marathons are supposed to bring people together.”

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Rabbi Potasnik, during his radio commentary program on Sunday, April 21, said, “I want to suggest a new meaning for an old message. Our religious tradition teaches us that one of the most important principles of faith is “Love your neighbor as yourself” read this week in the Torah. I always assumed that the passage was referring to the neighbor I knew, the one who lived near me. Following the Boston Marathon tragedy, I now realize that the new neighbor is the one I do not know.  We saw complete strangers reaching out to one another. A young woman named Victoria injured by shrapnel was carried to a medical treatment center by a young man named Tyler, a firefighter who too had been injured by shrapnel while serving in Afghanistan. He did not know her, but was able to calm her fears, assuring her that she would survive this horror. Terrorism has taught us that we now live in a new neighborhood and are learning to love our new neighbors-the ones we do not know.”

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Maronite Cathedral Hosts Interfaith Prayer Service for Syria

By Salma T. Vahdat, Parishioner, Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral

Earlier this month before the Boston tragedy, neighbors from different faiths united to pray for Syria in the wake of increased violence.

A somber but ever hopeful gathering of clergy and laity convened at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in early April to pray for peace in Syria. As violence and intolerance escalates and broadens in Syria, people from the three Abrahamic faiths–Christians, Muslims and Jews, united to make a plea to the One God to end the suffering of the Syrian people.

At the invitation of Sayedna Gregory Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron, and sponsored by the Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together (CAMECT), the Cathedral hosted approximately 250 guests. Clergy and representatives of Syriac Catholic and Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Diocese of Brooklyn and other Roman Catholic clergy, Sheik of the Druze, a Rabbi, several Catholic Sisters and laity offered prayer and reflection. Also attending were members of the Diplomatic Corps of the UN: the Ambassador of Syria to the UN; members of the Office of the Ambassador of Lebanon to the UN; the Consul General of Lebanon to NY; the Vatican Ambassador to the UN and other dignitaries.

Sayedna Gregory said he hosted the event because he truly believes in the power of sincere prayer.

“We invited Muslim, Christian and Jew and anyone who was willing to come, as well as any civil official,” he said. “We invited them for one reason, no matter what their political opinion of Syria is, just to pray for the people of Syria.” Sayedna continued,” Peace has not yet come to Syria. Many have tried, many have failed. Nonetheless, we must never forget that nothing is impossible with God; and so we turn to Him all our hearts, we ask for pardon, for civility, for justice and for peace among his children.”

Rabbi Serge Lippe, of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, said he accepted the invitation, in part out of his respect for Bishop Mansour’s call for unity.  “I’m honored to represent the Jewish community with our prayers for peace and well-being for all the peoples of faith of that region of the world,” he said.

The Chairman of the Druze Council of North America, Sheik Sami Merhi, said that he too believes Syria’s hope is for God’s children to intercede on her behalf. “Our mother country, Syria, is in turmoil, and there is a lot of suffering,” he said. “So I thank Bishop Mansour for gathering us in the name of the one God that unites us, to pray for peace, and hopefully our prayers will be heard.”

Bishop Nicholas Ozone, auxiliary bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, said that it should not be shocking that leaders of different religions come together for a common good. “As everybody knows, in Syria, there are all kinds of denominations, all types of religions, and historically they have lived peacefully as brethren together,” he said. “So it should not be difficult for brethren to come together to pray.”

The prayers and reflections were based on the “Ramsho” or evening prayer of the Maronite Church, adapted to include Jewish and Muslim prayer.  

The Cathedral Choir under the direction of Rev. Geoffrey Abdallah, Director of Music for the Eparchy, provided appropriate accompaniment for the service. The Knights of St. Maron ably conducted the ushering and the Ladies of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception hosted the reception following the service in the Social Hall.

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Congregation Beth Elohim Marks 150th Year with Retrospective Service

Congregation Beth Elohim’s 150th Retrospective Kabbalat Shabbat this Friday will celebrate the Temple’s history over the past century and a half.

The Kabbalat Shabbat service, starting at 7 p.m. on April 26, fills the sanctuary with sights, sounds, and styles associated with the past 150 years of Jewish worship trends. Rarely-heard liturgy and music from the Temple’s German and Classical Reform roots will be heard. The evening peaks in a Torah service that Rabbi Emeritus Gerald Weider will conduct. Guest vocalists and Nashira, Beth Elohim’s congregational choir will participate. A festive Oneg Shabbat will follow in the Social Hall.

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Borough Park Temple Welcomes All to Upcoming Shavuot Service

Progressive Temple Beth Ahavat Sholom (PTBAS) in Borough Park invites the community to its Erev Shavuot service on May 14. Shavuot is a spring Jewish festival that celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments (the Torah) at Mount Sinai. Jews customarily participate in all-night study sessions. The Book of Ruth (who is King David’s great-grandmother) is read and discussed.

PTBAS will welcome its newest members on Shavuot. The evening starts with a light dairy dinner at 6:30 p.m. with services at 8 p.m. An Oneg (reception) and discussion on the Story of Ruth follow the liturgy.

Reservations for the dinner are required, with an RSVP deadline of Tuesday, May 7. The cost is $2. RSVP and obtain more information through the Temple’s website, ; email address: [email protected], Facebook page, [email protected]; or via 

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Unitarian Chapel on Pierrepont St. Hosts Annual Electronic Waste Drive

Heights residents with old electronic equipment to be discarded may bring them to the Annual Brooklyn Heights E-Waste Recycling Drive this weekend.

Each year, the Brooklyn Heights Association, First Presbyterian Church, First Unitarian Church, Grace Church Brooklyn Heights and Plymouth Church join forces to co-sponsor this drive, with electronics being dropped off at the Chapel of the Unitarian Church (immediately to the right of the main sanctuary, and at street level.)

Only residential e-waste will be accepted. Among items accepted are: answering machines, cables and wiring, CD and DVD players, electric typewriters, printers, fax machines, hard drives, laptop and desktop computers and their peripherals, pagers, remote controls, telephones, transparency makers, televisions, VCRs and UPS systems. The dates and hours are: Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, May 5 from noon until 2 p.m. For more details, contact the First Unitarian Church office at 718-624-5466.

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Intersections of Religion & Politics

Congregation Beth Elohim Hosts NYC Mayoral Candidates Forum

Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, with its seating capacity of 1,200 plus standing room, hosts a May 6 Mayoral Candidates Forum to clarify a challenging array of issues in this year’s election.

The Park Slope Civic Council and its sponsoring partners: the Brooklyn Heights Association; Boerum Hill Association; Crown Heights North Association; Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council; and Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association) present this forum as a venue for the public to hear first-hand and directly the viewpoints of the candidates.  It’s an opportunity for residents to submit questions with a Brooklyn focus, on a range of topics that will include infrastructure, schools, emergency preparedness, city services, transportation & transit, parks, development, businesses and local jobs.

All mayoral candidates as March 2013 have been invited to attend the forum (Sal Albanese; Adolfo Carrion; John Catsimatidis; Bill de Blasio; Joe Lhota; John Liu; George McDonald; Christine Quinn; and Bill Thompson).  The forum’s moderator will be Andrea Bernstein of WNYC, and the event will be strictly timed. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the forum runs from 7 to 9 p.m., with 1.5 minute opening statements and 2 minute closing statements. All interested voters to are encouraged attend this forum, and hear the candidates’ vision for the future of Brooklyn and NYC. All local news outlets, publications and blogs are also invited to attend.

Congregation Beth Elohim is at 274 Garfield Place at 8th Avenue in Park Slope.

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Faith Leaders Address Senator Schumer On LGBT Rights

Several Brooklyn clergy, part of a coalition of nearly 100 New York interfaith leaders, recently wrote to United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, asking him to continue his historically strong support for the LGBT community. The letter requests equal protections for LGBT Americans and their families in comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

An excerpt from the letter reads, “Same-sex bi-national couples should not be forced to choose between their love for America and their love for each other. These couples are our congregants, friends, and leaders in our communities. They are created in the image of God, just like all people, and should be protected as equals by the law. “

As the clergy write in their letter,

Their message to the Senator continues, “Not including LGBT protections in the original draft of the bill sends the wrong message and risks that those critical protections will not be included. It also sends the dangerous message that it is acceptable to continue to discriminate against certain groups of people and would be incredibly damaging to those who support LGBT rights and immigration reform.

“The dignity of LGBT people, who we love and value, must not be traded behind the closed doors of legislative negotiations. They deserve a vigorous, public, and moral advocate in their U.S. Senator. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from Birmingham Jail, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Organizing the letter campaign were: Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Auburn Theological Seminary, and the Empire State Pride Agenda. Bend the Arc is a leading progressive Jewish voice advocating for the nation’s most vulnerable – Jewish and non-Jewish – The organization has dedicated itself to advocating for a just and equitable immigration system that includes equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, as well as robust labor protections for aspiring Americans and their families.

Clergy associated with Brooklyn who undersigned the letter included: Rabbi David Adelson; the Rev. Nell Archer; the Rev. J.C. Austin of Auburn Seminary; Rabbi Andy Bachman and Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, both of Congregation Beth Elohim; The Rev. Galen Guengerich, All Souls Unitarian Church; Rabbi Heidi Hoover; Rabbi Valerie Lieber; Rabbi Ellen Lippmann; The Rev. Sally N. MacNichol; Rev. Charles Straut; and Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub.

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