Churches in Pittsburgh Celebrate Israel

I received an invitation from a friend to attend the first annual “Pittsburgh Celebrates Israel” event sponsored by a broad representation of predominantly black churches and the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh Community Relations Council held on June 4 at the Covenant Church of Pittsburgh.

I anticipate the reaction of some of my Jewish friends to whom I say “Wait a minute before you jump to any conclusions – just read on.”

I arrived at the location, a huge church building with a sprawling parking lot swarming with cars. On entering the building I found a large auditorium dressed with Israeli flags. There were no religious symbols on the walls. There were hundreds of people, young and old, mostly black, a large stage, an orchestra, a choir, center stage for the presidium and to the left a group of women dancers all dressed in white. I was handed a deluxe publication, the program with a photo of the the Western Wall on the cover.

The hosts of the event were Reverend Robert Stearns and the Covenant bishop, Bishop Joseph L. Garlington. Reverend Stearns is the founder of the Israel Experience College Scholarship Program an Israeli tour and study program designed to give young Christian college students “a heart for Israel”. He is also the founder of the annual “Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem,” observed around the world on the first Sunday in October. The sponsors also include El-Al, and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in New York.

The program was conducted by Reverend Stearns, a gifted speaker, singer and musician. The celebration began with the blowing of a shofar and the singing of Hatikvah in Hebrew, transliterated and displayed on three large screens. The first speaker was the Counsel-General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, Yaron Sideman. The Jewish Federation was represented by Skip Grinberg, Chair of the Community Relations Council and Gregg Roman, the Director of Community Relations. Bishop Garlington greeted the assembled. In the intervals the orchestra and choir played Israeli songs, and the dancers danced. Many in the audience danced in the aisles. Kosher food was served at the conclusion of the program out of respect for Jewish guests.

At one point, Reverend Stearns announced “Among us is a Holocaust survivor, a resistance fighter, a veteran of the Second World War.” Then he said “Moshe, rise!” I was startled, but rose and was immediately swarmed by people who wanted to hug me, take pictures, and I realized that my presence there was a unique opportunity for an entire community to meet someone who had survived the Holocaust. It was an overwhelming moment.

When I share this experience with some of my Jewish friends, they often express skepticism about the real motives behind this event. What I tell them is that as a survivor, I feel strongly that the opportunity to speak to non-Jewish audiences is an opportunity to tell our stories, and we do not gloss over the role of Christians who collaborated with the Nazis or who were bystanders.

David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England said in 1925 “You may say you have been oppressed and persecuted — that has been your power! You have been hammered into very fine steel, and that is why you have never been broken.” If nothing else, my presence at this assembly has confronted this audience who I would not otherwise have been able to meet with a very personal image of the survival and vitality of the Jewish people.


4 thoughts on “Churches in Pittsburgh Celebrate Israel

  1. I have had the pleasure of spending a little time with Moshe Baran. He spoke at the Mars Area Middle School twice and I picked him up and drove him to and from on both occasions. I can tell you, our meeting has made a lasting impact on me. I have shared Mr. Baran’s insight and wisdom with my fellow non jews and have used his story to warn others of the danger in “looking the other way” during current times of persecution of various peoples in our country. I have had long discussions with my neighbors about the consequences of living by “principles” that often suit the current political climate. I wish that more non jewish people could hear this message as it might make this country a more accepting place for everyone.

  2. Reblogged this on Sojourning With Jews and commented:
    SWJ readers:
    Moshe Baran is a 92 year old Holocaust survivor, and blogger! I’ve been following him for a long time, and thought this would be a good “re-post” as I clean up my next one for publication.. Moshe is a “rock star” as you will see if you spend some time on his blog.

    From his “about” page:

    “I experienced a ghetto and a forced labor camp; I escaped from the Germans with stolen weapons and joined the resistance. I was with the Soviet Army when it liberated Germany.

    At the end of the war I dared to dream that six years of bloodshed, destruction and unspeakable human tragedy might finally put an end to war in our world. I felt that the brutal murder of millions of Jews and other targeted groups would bring a period of tranquility and peace and a new dawn of harmony among the nations. Regrettably this was not the case. Since 1945 we have witnessed war in Korea and Vietnam, genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Kosovo in the heart of Europe, and too many other instances of hate and violence to mention.

    We learned in the 1930′s that hate words can lead to hateful actions and that hateful actions can lead to genocide. Today I am alarmed and frightened when I notice speech in the media that distorts the truth in hateful ways. Such statements remind me of the time before World War II, when the media was filled with such speech. Populations who receive their news from narrowly targeted sources are particularly likely to have their perceptions shaped by the ethnically biased distortions presented to them. Such speech has already given us massacres in Rwanda and Kosovo, the use of chemical weapons on the Kurdish population of Iraq, and incidents of ethnic cleansing from Chechnya to Indonesia and beyond. Even in the Western world we see hate speech leading to the desecration of churches, mosques and synagogues and even to the murder of two children and their father in front of a school in Toulouse, France.” (Read more on his “About Page.)

  3. Moshe,

    I agree that it is important to share you message with all audiences. Genocide and hate are problems that all people should be concerned with, and all people need more awareness about, regardless of their religion. Keep up your amazing work!


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