Late last month, two communities came together to share and express spirituality through music.
Called “A Celebration of Spirit: Strengthening Our Common Bonds Through Music and Faith,” the gathering, sponsored by the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, took place on Sunday, June 30 at the church, and featured religious music from both Jewish and African American traditions. The intention was to encourage more dialogue and awareness between the communities.
AZJHS Executive Director Lawrence Bell explained that the organization was making an effort to reach out to the African American community. Even though there is a strong history of connection between the two communities — especially during the fight for civil rights — Bell believed that the two communities have been growing apart.
“We came up with the idea of a religious concert so we as Jews can see what they’re singing in church and they as African American Christians can see what we’re singing in our temples and synagogues,” Bell said. “The Jewish and African American communities work together a lot in areas of common interest, but we really don’t understand each other very much.”
The concert was originally going to be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day but it had to be postponed due to scheduling conflicts. However, Bell believed the spirit of King was felt that day because it was such an uplifting and joyous event.
Between 400 and 500 people attended the concert, including members of other faith traditions, including Hindu and Buddhist communities.
Temple Solel cantorial soloist Todd Herzog and Temple Kol Ami cantorial soloist Emily Kaye performed Jewish songs at the beginning of the concert, and the church’s choir sang Southern Baptist songs. All the musicians performed together at the end of the concert.
AZJHS Volunteer Event Chair Stu Siefer heard the choir rehearse multiple times. “Their singing was so powerful and spiritually uplifting that it made me realize how sharing music is a great way to bring people of different faiths together,” he said in a statement prior to the show.
Elder Richard Yarbough, Pilgrim Rest administrator, agreed and said that because music is a universal language, he believed it affected those who attended on an emotional level. He was also grateful there were so many photos of the audience in the concert.
“Sometimes when you’re immersed in an environment like that, there’s so much personal appreciation for what’s going on you sort of get in your own zone and you’re not as sensitive as to what’s going on around you,” he said. “Seeing the audience captured in photos just illustrated how much how much joy, camaraderie and interaction there was between all the people who attended.”
In between the performances there were also two religious sermons led by Temple Solel Rabbi Emily Langowitz and Pilgrim Rest Pastor Terry E. Mackey. The two analyzed the same biblical text, which was the story of Korah, and shared their religious perspectives.
Audience member Allan Frenkel, resident of the Kivel Campus of Care, thought the concert was powerful, and said the Jewish community should participate in even more interfaith events.
“I do not think anyone left without making new friends. Many exchanged numbers, emails and vowed to get together,” Frenkel said. “The spirit that was in the attendees’ hearts when leaving the church could not be fully described, but all knew they had been blessed by this event.”
Cepand Alizadeh, community relations director for the Mayor’s Office, read a letter to the audience written by Mayor Kate Gallego.
“I encourage us to integrate music more into our daily lives so that Phoenix becomes a stronger and more unified place,” Gallego wrote. “I have no doubt that today’s inspiring interfaith concert is a positive step that will move our city towards harmony.” JN
“A Celebration of Spirit: Strengthening Our Common Bonds Through Music and Faith” concert can be viewed in its entirety on the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Facebook page.