2006-12-29 / Columnists

On The Beach

RCJC: Celebrating Commonalties
Commentary By Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTER One of my last endearing memories of Rabbi Joseph Weiss is of the times that he would join us at the American Legion Hall after many of our parades. There, he’d be sitting so humbly and simply, without much fuss, very natural, with such ease and grace, like he belonged there....and everywhere. Just enjoying the Celtic rhythms of the fifes and drums, with a hot dog and glass of beer in hand.

What endures about this image is that I was lucky enough, in the first place, to have this impression in my mind. And quite an impression it made! Where I grew up, the notion of a Rabbi humming along to Irish ditties was unheard of! Mind you, I wasn’t raised in the “boonies”; just a small hamlet on the North Shore where mostly everyone was of the same ethnicity and social station. In many ways, it was a very insular existence. When I met, and ultimately married, my husband, I found myself embracing a culture that was in many ways quite different from a culture I’d known. I conferred with both Rabbi Weiss and Monsignor Geraghty who were profoundly helpful.

If I had to describe the one quality that appeals to me most about living in Rockaway it would be its eclecticism. Our community’s diversities have enhanced and enriched my life in ways that would have eluded me if I had lived anywhere else, and I am most grateful to each and every person whom I’ve encountered. I’ve learned the meaning of the word “community” through each and every one of you! And only in a community as ours could an organization as the Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council be born and continue to maintain its active relevance. I feel that the RCJC is perhaps one of the most vital organizations on the peninsula because it personifies who we are as a community.

   This year marks the 80th anniversary since Temple Beth-El and the First Congregational Church first began hosting joint interfaith services each year on Thanksgiving Day. Rabbi Blaine, whom many regard as the Dean of our religious leaders in our community, celebrated the milestone occasion as friends, neighbors and congregates were welcomed on this past Thanksgiving Day at Temple Beth El. Pastor Peter, of the First Congregational Church, also joined the services in continuing the tradition of making our interfaith connection an integral part of our community’s social fabric.

The initiative became the Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council. Its purpose is to foster interfaith understanding and tolerance. The organization was formed by Rabbi Allan Blaine, Father Jack and Rabbi Weiss who recognized that religious believers of Catholicism and Judaism can establish strong bonds that weave the fabric of a moral community, and where despite our diversities, we can know the strength that is derived by our commonalties.

We are living in difficult times where people are pursuing their own agendas and deliberately generating feelings of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. These efforts can only be negated by constant vigilance and by men and women of good will collaborating to forge relationships that celebrate and respect our diversity.

For the past four years, the RCJC has been reinvigorated by the collaboration of Dr. Geraldine Chapey and Renee Freeman, Hadassah President, who Co-Chair the organization. Although they bring varied experiences to the collaboration, the two compliment each other very well.

An important function of the RCJC is the distinguished annual Brotherhood/Sisterhood Essay Award. The contest is open to students from both the local public and parochial schools and is awarded to those students who best articulate the meaning of the RCJC’s core principles. Perhaps it is of little coincidence that its Co-Presidium, Dr. Chapey, who attended St. Francis de Sales School, was an early recipient of the prestigious award. Other recent luminaries include Michael Dever, as well as a grandchild of Bobbie Seiden.

On Wednesday, December 13, the RCJC hosted its annual Holiday party at the West End Temple where nearly 250 people from the Jewish and Catholic communities were treated to a festive night of holiday songs performed by the Ed Deacy Band, warm camaraderie and sumptuous cuisine provided by the temple’s catering service.

Dr. Chapey introduced our revered religious leaders who were in attendance. Among them were Rabbi Allan Blaine, of Temple Beth El, who is a renowned author and scholar who, through his columns in The Wave, continues to provide insight and wisdom which are applicable to our daily lives. His words and guidance are a beacon of enlightenment and source of strength to us all. On a personal note, Rabbi Blaine knew my uncle, Cantor Jacob Singer and my Aunt Miriam and was a source of comfort to them for which I am still most grateful.

Monsignor John Brown, the Pastor of St. Francis de Sales, had some rather large shoes to fill when he was assigned his service to the parish, succeeding the beloved Msgr. Geraghty. Msgr. Brown has distinguished himself with his unique and strong record of service to the people of the diocese. His support of RCJC’s interfaith endeavors through his presence is deeply appreciated.

Father Paul Landolfi, the backbone of the RCJC, represented the Rockaway, Five Town Interfaith Clergy which meets regularly to discuss interfaith issues of concern in our area. Dr. Chapey announced that Father Landolfi has been selected as the convener of this important group.

Also in attendance were Father Lou De Gaetano of St. Francis de Sales who continues to be a source of inspiration for those who seek to lead good, meaningful and religious lives; and Rabbi Marjorie Slome, of West End Temple, who has awed us all by her dedication and example. She is a cherished asset to the interfaith community. Pastor Peter, of the First Congregational Church, is the newest welcomed member of our clergy family. He hails from Germany and was gracious in accepting the invitation to attend the evening’s festivities.

It was so nice to have this occasion to see and speak with Barbara Eisenstadt, Sharon Gabriel, Frances Abbracciamento, Mary Dever, the Cornell’s, Eric Ulrich, Evelyn Weber, Marsha Weber, Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey and the so many others who are part of this extended family we call Rockaway!

  And now that The Beach Club is officially closed and part of our fond history, you may want to consider West End Temple’s facilities as a venue for one of your occasions. The Caterer is superb! It also offers two beautiful rooms which are perfect for large functions and it is open to the public. They also boast two parking lots which are well-lit and easily accessible. You may reach them by contacting West End Temple at (718) 634-0301. I thank Dr. Chapey and Renee Freeman for chairing this important organization and for inviting Owen and I to this special event. We enjoyed it very much. And may you all know health, kindness and peace in the New Year.

***See you...On the Beach!    



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