We went to an interfaith recitation and music event at the Town & Village Synagogue on 14th Street in Manhattan last Thursday. Every year, the event is held at a different venue, and this time it was T&V Synagogue’s turn to host the event. I don’t mean to say the hosting is thought of in a negative way, but rather as an opportunity to contribute to the interfaith dialogue that they’re trying to promote with the event.
According to the announcers (Rabbi Larry Sebert and Anthony Donovan, the co-founder of Local Faith Communities), it was the fourth time they’ve held the event and the groups all seemed to be familiar with each other. In addition to Town & Village’s choir, there were representatives from:
- The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
- Bhakti Center (a Hindu path)
- Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection
- The Catholic Worker
- Medina Masjid Mosque (Muslim)
- Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera (Spanish Evangelical)
- Nechung Foundation (Tibetan Buddhist)
- St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (Episcopal)
- The Light of Guidance Sufi Center
- Middle Collegiate Church (Protestant)
The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and it was interesting seeing people of different faiths all in one house of worship. Another thing that I found interesting was the way Mr. Donovan kept saying that the Torah scrolls, housed in the ark behind the bimah (an alcove behind the raised portion at the front of the synagogue) must be really blessed since so many people from different religions were there praising God, or at least their interpretation of God. Perhaps he was thinking of how Jews call someone up to bless the Torah prior to oral recitation of the text.
There were a few groups that I found particularly interesting. The Russian Orthodox group sang at what felt like a professional level. The harmony and precision of the singers’ voices was amazing! The Tibetan priest was fantastic as well. The 10 foot long horn he played prior to reciting a mantra was very exciting. I took a video of it. The guy seems very humble and pleasant. He works construction during the day, despite his age. Perhaps that’s why he’s in such good health.
The Quran recitation was also interesting. A 16 year old boy who is already a hafiz, a person who has memorized all 600+ pages of the Quran, and the imam both did recitations on the bimah. I bet that’s something you wouldn’t find anywhere in the world but this country. Maybe not even outside New York?
That’s not to say the other groups weren’t good as well. The whole evening was fantastic. Those are just the three that stood out to me the most. The event was a little different from what I expected in that most groups sanitized their music choices. This event was supposed to be about celebrating difference as much as unity in that each group was supposed to present songs or recitations they would normally use in their services. The Russian Orthodox group leader specifically said they chose selections from Psalms because it was more inline with an interfaith type of dialog. The Middle Collegiate group sang a song in which I’m about 98% sure they replaced the word “Jesus” with “freedom” to make it more universal in nature.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably a testament to the success of what the Local Faith Communities group has been trying to do that even when given the chance to do what they normally do, people went out of their way to make sure they didn’t offend each other. That’s what interfaith dialog is all about, right? Learning to live peacefully with one’s neighbors?
The whole event lasted from 7:00 PM to about 9:30 PM. We had dinner beforehand at Murray’s around the corner on 1st Avenue, which is outstanding by the way, and then had some fruit after the event in the reception hall below the synagogue’s sanctuary. We had a really good time and we are looking forward to seeing next year’s Spiritual Sounds event.
Here are some photos of the different groups on stage which I have, hopefully, labeled appropriately. I wish the quality was better, but even after charging my camera battery and leaving myself reminders, I forgot to bring my camera with me and had to use my iPhone.