If you happened to be at Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre on Friday night, you would have been shimmying and shaking to the combined voices of former Broadway performer and now cantor Ilysia Pierce, four-time Emmy-nominated composer Sharon Farber and an inner-city African American ensemble called The Spirit of David Choir. Their voices united against religious intolerance as they celebrated our shared heritage of freedom and memorialized the 50 people killed in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
So how does an entertainment industry-heavy Jewish temple fight against anti-Semitism? According to Rabbi David Baron, start by taking a holistic approach. “Many cultures share a common thread of oppression,” said Rabbi Baron. “As we celebrate Judaism in music and dance, we also fight against hate in the same way. Every year we celebrate with Patrick Bolton and the Spirit of David Choir because it brings our communities together. It is especially needed now.”
Friday night’s services drew actors Elliott Gould and Anne-Marie Johnson as well as Holocaust survivor and former tailor to the stars David Lenga, whose clients included everyone from Paul Newman to Groucho Marx.
“I was amazed at the passion and comradeship that the inner city singers had with Temple of the Art’s congregation. My grandfather might have been appalled, but this is the way we fight against anti-Semitism now — with our brothers and sisters of other cultures,” Lenga observed.
Rabbi Baron opened Shabbat services with a prayer for the 50 dead from Christchurch’s Muslim community. His sermon bound together the communities that were sitting in the congregation. “We must recognize that when we call out anti-Semitic comments we are also fighting racism, and that if we permit a Congresswoman to spew hateful comments it sets the stage for hate filled fanatics to kill and maim. This poisoned fruit is sourced from the same poisoned tree of bigotry toward any minority.”
When asked what is the most important thing that we can do to fight hate, Rabbi Baron advised, “we need to unify our voices. We are splintered within Judaism along political divides, and it’s gotten to a point where we have refused to speak with each other. We have to get over this, join with other cultures who have experienced oppression, link arms and speak out.”
The evening also recognized Zubin Mehta, Rabbi Baron, Holocaust survivor and hair dresser Bill Harvey and Leon Bass, an African American serviceman who was among the liberators who freed prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp at the end of World War II. They all received a Mensch Award from Mensch Foundation founder Steven Geiger.