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Sinai Temple welcomes Friends Next Door

By Stacey Dresner

LONGMEADOW – Most Jews probably have some idea what Judaism has to say about the issue of sin and repentance. But is there more to it than just repenting on Yom Kippur? And what do our Christian neighbors think about sin and repentance? Well, that’s a whole different story.

Several Jewish and Christian clergy from the Longmeadow area will be discussing some of the similarities and differences between the religious traditions as part of Friends Next Door, an interfaith series that will be hosted for the next four weeks at Sinai Temple.

Each Thursday evening, from now until April 11, two clergy members – one Jewish and one Christian (and Unitarian Universalist) — will lead the 90-minute sessions, each covering different topics.

The sessions are free and open to the public.

Friends Next Door got its start last year during a monthly brown bag lunch discussion that several clergy members from Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and along the Springfield border have “where we share what it’s like to be faith leaders in our time,” said Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ Longmeadow. Along the way they have all become great friends.

“It’s deeply powerful because we are all neighbors. We all live in the same community…and we have a unique opportunity to be friends and neighbors,” Rev. Ludwig said. “We don’t always know how to talk about faith with each other.”

Rabbi Amy Katz of Temple Beth El and Rev. Pam McGrath, Pastor of First Church of Christ in Longmeadow came up with the idea for the two groups to teach together.

“They raised the idea that there could be interest in the community for folks from different faith communities to learn together about each other’s traditions but also about their own traditions in the context of a faith dialogue,” said Rabbi James Greene of the Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC).

The first five-week session of Friends Next Door took place last fall. The study of sacred texts featured two clergy members discussing a different book of the Bible each week. There was a regular attendance of around 40 people from the different faith communities who attended.

“We had rabbi or cantor and usually a Christian pastor that took turns and we brought scriptures and ritual from our traditions,” Rev. Ludwig said. “We talked about language to use. We discovered that even those of us who did a lot of interfaith together sometimes still used language when speaking about our scriptures that offended others in the room. We were able to have conversation about that which I have to say is a next level of depth of interfaith. So it is really powerful. We are learning so much from each other.”

This spring’s session is focused more on religious and cultural expressions, said Rabbi Greene.

He and Rev. Ludwig led the first session on Death and the Afterlife last Thursday.

These discussions show “How we experience those concepts and those moments in life in very different ways than our neighbors do,” Rabbi Greene said. “Death and dying is something that I think the Jewish community does exceptionally well. We are less skilled at doing the afterlife piece because we are not theologically dogmatic. In the Christian community I think that there is less time devoted to the death and dying piece but a lot of time devoted to the mourning piece and the afterlife piece and its feels like there is a nice balance there that is quite lovely.”

On Thursday, March 21, Rabbi Jeremy Master of Sinai and Rev. Anne Strickert of St. Paul Lutheran Church will tackle the sin and redemption question.

“She is going to be talking about sin and repentance from the Christian perspective and I’ll be talking about it, obviously, from the Jewish perspective,” Rabbi Master said. “I chose this topic because I think it’s so fascinating. Between Christianity and Judaism there are similarities, but there are massive differences — like the concept of original sin in Christianity, which we don’t have in Judaism. Yet both Christianity and Judaism share the idea of human beings committing sin and being able to repent is central in both religions, even if the viewpoint of human nature is different.”

Rabbi Master said that programs like Friends Next Door are important for interfaith relations, but can also teach us about our own faith.  

“I think there are two values; one is that understanding different faiths helps us to understand each other more; and two, I think it helps us understand our own faiths as well because it helps us think about what we in particular believe…what our faith teaches us. It throws into stronger relief what we believe.”

Topics that will be discussed in the coming weeks include Rights of Passage/Lifecycle; Liturgy; and Spiritual Seeking in Modern Times.

Rabbi Greene said he hopes Friends Next Door will continue beyond the Spring.

“It seems like there has been a real need. It has spoken to a lot of people in the community, so I hope that we’ll choose to continue it,” he said. “I think that it provides a really lovely opportunity and it has led to some wonderful friendships among the clergy and its led to some wonderful relationships among program participants. And I think we are all in this work together. We are all trying to build meaning and build community in people’s lives. We are doing that work together in very unique and different ways and so I think sharing part of that journey through classes like this is an important part of how we do that work.”

Friends Next Door is Planned and presented by: 

Cantor Elise Barber, Temple Beth El; Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, 

UCC; Rabbi James Greene, Springfield JCC; Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, JGS Lifecare; Rabbi Amy Katz, Temple Beth El; Rabbi Jeremy Master, Sinai Temple; Rev. Pam McGrath, First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, UCC; Rev. Ute Schmidt, Baystate Health; Rev. Jason Seymour, Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield; Rabbi Mark Shapiro, Sinai Temple; Rev. Anne Strickert, St. Paul Lutheran Church; Rev. Peter Swarr, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; and Rev. Kelly Turney, East Longmeadow United Methodist Church.

For more information, call Rabbi James Greene at (413) 739-4715.

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