Brooklyn Boro

Faith In Brooklyn for Jan. 13

January 13, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Plymouth Church meeting house. Photo credit: Jeffrey Sturges
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Historic Church Famous for Abolitionist Ministry Sponsors Forum on Ending Modern-Day Slavery

Plymouth Church, noted for its 19th-century anti-slavery stand and the abolition work of its first pastor, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, will sponsor a free education and action event on the issue of human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery.

“We Are the New Abolitionists: An Education and Action Event to End Human Trafficking in our City” takes place on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 12:15 p.m., following Plymouth’s 11 a.m. service. It is free and open to the public. Rarely talked about, human trafficking is a growing epidemic across the country. This event will include immediate hands-on steps for people to take action, including a letter-writing campaign to legislators and volunteer opportunities.

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According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, four Brooklynites were indicted last March in connection with the 2014 kidnapping of two 13-year-old girls they hoped to lure into prostitution. In December 2014, 15 employees and managers of nine massage parlors in Brooklyn were arrested on prostitution and promoting prostitution charges.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, whose office has a human trafficking division, will open the event. Also on hand will be anti-trafficking organizations Sanctuary for Families, ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) and Restore. The event includes a performance of “Trafficked” by the acclaimed Brooklyn-based Girl Be Heard theater company.

“We focus on ending modern-day slavery — trafficking in all its guises — in our own community, here in Brooklyn and New York City,” said Beth Fleisher, chair of Plymouth’s anti-trafficking ministry. Fleisher, an advocate for anti-trafficking, helped organize a sold-out roundtable discussion on the issue at the Brooklyn Historical Society that was chaired by now-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Plymouth Church has a long history of mission against slavery and toward social justice for all that began with its founding in 1847, according to Fleisher. Because of its strong anti-slavery stand in the 19th century, it was called the Grand Central Depot on the Underground Railroad by the abolitionist movement, as it harbored and helped many slaves on their journey to freedom.

The church’s first pastor, the outspoken Henry Ward Beecher, was called the “most famous man in America” during his time at Plymouth for his anti-slavery sermons and events. His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote the classic abolitionist novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Plymouth has also hosted other events related to fighting trafficking and other forms of modern-day slavery. The church runs a thrift shop that benefits anti-trafficking causes.

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Weeksville Heritage Center Hosts Educational Networking for Clergy

Program Highlights Weeksville’s Key Role in Brooklyn History

Weeksville in Central Brooklyn was a model for building a viable community for free black people during the 19th century, and today’s black people must again stand together to be successful — this was the message of last week’s Clergy Network Breakfast, hosted at the Weeksville Heritage Center on Buffalo Avenue.

The event was held during January to give clergy the opportunities and resources they need now to prepare their Black History Month educational programs.

The Neighborhood Technical Assistance Clinic (NTAC) sponsored the program, which focused on the history of Weeksville, specifically the resourcefulness and resilience of free black males of the 19th century. The program also emphasized ways in which black people today can team up, share resources and build successful lives for themselves and for each other. The Rev. Dr. Valerie Oliver-Durrah, president and principal consultant at NTAC, moderated the event. She stated the importance of getting Brooklyn’s clergy to learn about the Weeksville Heritage Center.

The Brooklyn Historical Society partnered with the Weeksville Heritage Center and Irondale Ensemble Project to publish a walking tour booklet titled “In Pursuit of Freedom.” This public history project explores the heroes of the anti-slavery movement, particularly the founding of Weeksville “at a time when people with brown-colored skin were still slaves,” pointed out Tia Powell Harris, president of the Weeksville Heritage Center.

In 1838, James Weeks, a free African-American, bought a plot of land from businessman Henry C. Thompson (another free African-American) in the Ninth Ward of Central Brooklyn just 11 years after the abolition of slavery took final effect in New York state. (The terms for this abolition had been gradual for anyone born after 1799, with the children of slaves being indentured servants to their parents’ masters.) The abolition of slavery in New York state became complete on July 4, 1827.

The community (named Weeksville for James Weeks) was actually the fruit of many leaders and entrepreneurs in what was then, in pre-Civil War times, a sanctuary for “colored” people.  They understood what was needed for a vital neighborhood, and built schools, churches, asylums and homes for the elderly. In its heyday, Weeksville reached a population of 500.

The Weeksville community during the Civil War proved to be a refuge from many escaping the Draft Riots of 1863. The Draft Riots were a brutal epidemic of attacks on black men (who, not yet being citizens, were exempted from military drafts). This exemption had raised the ire of many whites — particularly longshoremen — and led to the riots. Many blacks fled to Weeksville for protection.

Gradually, Crown Heights expanded around Weeksville until, in the late 1960s, James Hurley, a historian at Pratt Institute and later head of the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society) discovered the Hunterfly Road Houses. He later worked with Joan Maynard to ensure their preservation.

“This is not just African-American history, but American history. Because this is an American story,” said Powell Harris at the networking breakfast. “They found the remnant of four historic houses on this land. The reason we sit here today is because the community demanded the restoration of these four houses. They demanded that their voice be heard and their history recognized.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman said that, even though the land is free, the people are still imprisoned: by poverty, lack of education and jobs and incarceration. His organization, the African-American Clergy & Elected Officials, came into being during the 1980s’ mayoral candidacy of David Dinkins, with the Revs. Herbert Daughtry and Gardner C. Taylor as leaders. Dr. Waterman lamented the fact that the black community later became fragmented, attributing Dinkins’ losing his re-election bid to this division.

Dr. Waterman also lamented the current attitude of “every man for himself.”

“I will not apologize for being black today, nor will I apologize for being black for 52 years. Because nobody else apologizes else for who they are but us. We are the only culture that seems as though if we stand up for who we are, we are looked upon as radicals,” he said.

Dr. Waterman continued, “We don’t even take our own black institutions seriously. Weeksville here could not have been supported by anyone else but us … when we begin to support the black institutions within our community, then we can rise up as people and really understand that we do have full power and we don’t have to depend on anyone else to bring it to us. But we can always bring it to them.”

T. Rasul Murray spoke on the significance of African Burial Ground to local history. Quoting Frederick Douglass, Murray said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

“Africans in this area have been demanding and resisting the restraints of slavery since their first arrival in 1626,” Murray continued. “Some of those first Africans, as early as the 1630s, began to resist the constraints of their enslavement by forming their own bonds in an area now described from Foley Square to Washington Square Park. The best we had was a poor imitation of the European culture because they couldn’t see the richness of the African culture that we brought with us to these shores and found ways to express.”

Murray continued, “And one of the ways that we expressed that history was through the formation of an African burial ground — recognizing in the African way the importance of water as an element of transition from life to the ancestors. Those Africans gathered close to Public Pond in lower Manhattan. And they did, probably as early as the 1630s, although Eurocentric historians will say 1712, because they need documentation, and don’t look at us for their history. As early as the 1630s, they began to bury their dead in an African way next to that public pond,” said Murray.

The pond and burial ground were covered over until they were discovered in 1991. Murray also spoke of the efforts since then to preserve the African Burial Ground.

Other speakers provided information on resources available to the community. The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Anthony of Judah International Christian Center outlined the background of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s task force, which clergy requested during the candidates’ forums held around the city. The Clergy Advisory Council is a result of those forums. The council, with 52 clergy members, has five committees: housing, economic development, education, public safety and health.

Catering the event was Madiba South African Restaurant on DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene. Oliver-Durrah, who moderated the event, called on the community to support the popular restaurant, which is in danger of closing. Performers from Jamel Gaines’ Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn also narrated, through song, dance and sign language interpretation, the black community’s stories of slavery, anguish and survival.

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Kane Street Synagogue Hosts 12th Annual Brooklyn Israel Film Festival

The popular Brooklyn Israel Film Festival, now in its 12th year at the Kane Street Synagogue, returns next week. This annual festival presents the best of new Israeli cinema.

The festival again features three nights of thought-provoking films on Jan. 21, 23 and 24 (Thursday, Saturday night and Sunday, as no films are shown on Shabbat eve).

The 2016 films reveal diverse facets of Israeli life, examining prejudice and identity through a personal lens, exploring Israel’s history through the life one of its greatest statesmen and surveying the wide array of food traditions that make Israeli society so rich.

The 2016 festival kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. with “A Borrowed Identity,” a coming-of-age drama about a gifted Arab teenager struggling to fit into Israeli society. From a boisterous childhood in the bosom of a loving family in the Israeli Arab town of Tira, Eyad struggles to fit in when he is chosen to attend an elite, all-Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem. There, a romance with beautiful Naomi and friendship with handicapped Jonathan lead to life-changing questions. The opening night reception is sponsored by Pride Caterers, starting at 7:15.

The festival continues on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. with “Rabin in His Own Words,” an intimate and moving documentary told in Yitzhak Rabin’s own voice. Part bio-pic and part autobiography, through rare archival footage, home movies and private letters, the film reveals the evolution of a visionary statesman as his life unfolds in the light of Israeli history (Best Documentary, Haifa International Film Festival, 2015).

The concluding film on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. (an hour earlier than usual) is “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” a documentary exploring the rich, ethnic and cultural diversity of the new Israeli food scene. Michael Solomonov, American-Israeli chef of Philadelphia’s Zahav restaurant, guides the viewer through visits with chefs, home cooks, farmers, street-food vendors, vintners, cheese makers, orchards and landscapes for a mouth-watering portrait of the Israeli people through food. Director Roger Sherman will be on hand for post-film Q-and-A.

Tickets are $18 for opening night, $15 each for Saturday and Sunday evenings and $36 for the full series of three films. Online ticketing is now open; tickets can also be purchased at the door. For more information about the festival, go to or

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Congregation Mount Sinai Offers Series on ‘Radical Judaism’

The community is invited to explore a Judaism that is alive, vibrant and full of meaningful practices that can enrich, inform and inspire one’s life.

Igal Harmelin Moria will lead an eight-session seminar on the teachings in Radical Judaism by Rabbi Arthur Green. Each meeting will consist of a short presentation, reading of a passage, some meditative exercises and a group discussion.

Igal Harmelin Moria has been teaching meditation internationally for four decades. For the past year, he has been working closely with Rabbi Green to create a Hebrew version of Radical Judaism.

A free introductory talk will be offered on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. This is a date change from what the synagogue originally announced. The series then launches on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and runs Tuesdays during the rest of the month and February. All sessions runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at Congregation Mount Sinai, 250 Cadman Plaza West. The course costs $150 ($75 for students and seniors).

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Congregation Mount Sinai also offers a Wednesday afternoon film festival for the movie buff. The next film, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, is “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray.” This film explores the little-known history of the Jews who fought for both the Confederacy and the Union. Admission to the 3:30 p.m. showing is free, but donations are appreciated. Coffee and snacks are provided.

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Art Historian Speaks on New Book About Memorials

The Forum @ St. Ann’s will present an author lecture and book launch on Tuesday, Jan. 26, highlighting Harret F. Senie’s new release, “Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11.”

The event is a presentation of The Forum @ St. Ann’s, which seeks to engage the community in conversation about the arts, ideas and civic life, and is free and open to the public.

The Vietnam War, Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine High School shooting and attacks of 9/11 all shattered myths of national identity.

“Memorials to Shattered Myths” traces the evolution and consequences of a new memorial paradigm, which grants a heroic status to victims and, by extension, to their families, thereby creating a class of privileged participants in the permanent memorial process. Senie argues against this practice, suggesting instead that victims’ families be charged with determining the nature of an interim memorial, one that addresses their needs in the critical time between the death of their loved ones and the completion of the permanent memorial.

Senie also observes what could be a controversial point: that these memorials are inadvertently based on strategies of diversion and denial that direct people’s attention away from actual events and reframe tragedy as secular or religious triumph. In doing so, she posits that they camouflage history. Seen as an aggregate, the memorials define a nation of victims, exactly the concept they and their accompanying celebratory narratives were apparently created to obscure.

Senie is a professor of art history at City College, CUNY, where she directs the M.A. program in art history and art museum studies, and she also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on public art, as well as co-founder of the international organization, Public Art Dialogue, and co-editor of its journal, Public Art Dialogue, the only peer review journal devoted to public art. The anthology, “Companion to Public Art,” that she co-edited with Cher Knight, will be published by Wiley-Blackwell later this year.

“Memorials to Shattered Myths” was published by Oxford University Press. The book will be available for purchase at the special price of $20 at the reception after the lecture, which begins at 7 p.m.

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Repair the World Launches Program, ‘Act for Racial Justice on MLK Weekend’

National Campaign Will Engage Thousands of Young Jewish Volunteers

Repair the World, the only organization devoted exclusively to engaging young Jewish adults as volunteers, has launched a special national campaign, Act for Racial Justice on MLK Weekend. Combining two pillars of Repair’s engagement strategy, Act for Racial Justice offers the opportunity to host a Turn The Tables Shabbat Dinner on Jan. 15 — resources will help facilitate substantive questions and dialogue, followed by numerous volunteer opportunities throughout the weekend addressing racial injustice.

“Around the country, thousands of young Jewish adults will mobilize on MLK Weekend to address the serious gaps that still exist in this country because of race,” said David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World. “Jewish teachings and values drive many to engage and help others. Repair is committed to offering paths to meaningful social action based on these rich traditions.”

Act for Racial Justice includes national partners like Moishe House, URJ and BBYO. Young adults interested in hosting a Shabbat dinner, finding Act for Racial Justice volunteer opportunities, or becoming Repair the World Movement Leaders — the individuals who create volunteer projects — can learn more here.

Repair the World also is facilitating a series of online conversations in which Jewish leaders will interview Civil Rights activists of today. Follow these interviews on Repair the World’s website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages with hashtag #AmplifyVoices.

In addition to MLK Weekend, Repair the World coordinates major service initiatives around the High Holidays, along with year-round efforts and its flagship program, Repair the World Communities.

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