Dear Neighbor: Joyce Caddell: Together in harmony

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

By Joyce Caddell

Dear Neighbor,

For over 60 years, side-by-side buildings on Brenner Avenue, across from the VA, have been the homes of Jewish and Christian congregations: Temple Israel and John Calvin Presbyterian Church.

For decades, these two worshiping groups have gathered together for a Thanksgiving meal, alternating hosting duties. Several years ago, when the Piedmont Unitarian Universalists began to rent space in the temple building, they were naturally included.

The array of pot-luck contributions has been as varied as the participants, everything from fried chicken and pineapple au gratin to specialty dishes such as chopped liver and noodle kugel. The dessert-table fare is always particularly appealing with a wide variety of pies as well as cultural  specialties such as rugelach. When Rabbi Ettin breaks the bread and declares the blessing, we are more than eager to fill our plates and “sup together.” That’s the operative word here: “together.”

Several years ago, before COVID, we came together to recognize the plight of innocent children in our Light of Liberty service where personal stories were poignantly shared for the standing-room-only crowd. Gathering in the Temple parking lot that night raising our lighted phones was a fitting and hopeful conclusion to the event.

A couple of years ago, when the temple building was sold, the John Calvin Session voted to invite both congregations to move next door to share space in our former fellowship hall. Isn’t that what neighbors do?

Our senses of justice align while we recognize our religious differences. The UU’s have their services on the first and second Sunday mornings of every month while the Temple members gather on one Friday evening a month in addition to their High Holy days.

On Oct. 7 this year, the temple invited the other two congregations to join them for the festival of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing the Torah) and the dedication of their new Ark, an impressive wooden cabinet of walnut and cherry crafted by Jon Post.

The rabbi began the service noting the joy within two sorrows: that morning’s devastating news of the Hamas invasion of Israel and Wednesday’s untimely death of a son of one of the temple’s original members.

How very impressive it was to witness the two scrolls being “undressed” of their incredibly fancy adornments and hearing members read in Hebrew from the Torah’s ending (Deuteronomy) and beginning (Genesis). In line with past and future life events, attendees were invited forward to witness “up close” the handwritten scrolls. Three dozen of us joined in prayer and celebration as well as sharing refreshments together. It was a glorious morning!

Psalm 133 succinctly sums up our neighborly togetherness as we share its common meaning:

  • “Look, how good, how sweet, to live as a family united!” (chanted by Temple Israel)
  • “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!”

(recited by John Calvin Presbyterian Church)

  • “Good and pleasant, people in peace together!” (sung by Piedmont Unitarian Universalists)

Dear Neighbor authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.

Joyce Caddell is a member of John Calvin Presbyterian Church