Religion

A STORY OF RESISTANCE: From left, actors Julia Lewenfisz-Gorka, Wojciech Zielinski and Marta Ormaniec portray Ora, Abraham and Luba Lewin in a ghetto street scene from the film. Photo by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

By Donna Newman

“History is written by the victors” is a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill. Some allege that history is written by the survivors. In at least one unique case, however, history was written by people who were neither victors nor survivors. During the Holocaust of World War II, a historical record was assembled by a group of doomed Polish Jews with only one goal: to let the truth be known.

Actor Wojciech Zielinski as Oyneg Shabes member Abraham Lewin. Photo by Anna Wloch

As designated by the United Nations in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been observed each year since on Jan. 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. On that date this year, the world can see the global premiere of a new documentary, “Who Will Write Our History,” detailing the trove of evidence regarding life, atrocities and death within the Warsaw Ghetto, as compiled and buried before the ghetto’s destruction by Jewish inmates who were imprisoned there.

As part of an international event, the film will screen simultaneously at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. These are just three of the more than 250 venues in 41 countries around the world taking part in this unprecedented event, with more joining daily. 

Here in Suffolk County, the film may only be viewed at North Shore Jewish Center, 385 Old Town Road, Port Jefferson Station, at 3:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 per person. Call 631-928-3737 to RSVP.  

“Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary film based on a book by the same name written by Trinity College Professor Samuel Kassow who was born in 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. The film was written, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman; the executive producer is Nancy Spielberg. 

Men praying in Warsaw Ghetto in a scene from the film.

Both book and documentary tell the story of the secret society — code named Oyneg Shabes, or joy of the Sabbath — composed of journalists, scholars and community leaders who were among the 450,000 Jews confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest in Nazi-occupied Europe, beginning in November 1940. 

The website for the documentary introduces the film: “‘Who Will Write Our History’ is a story of resistance. It is a story about who gets to tell the story. It is about a group of spiritual resistors who risked their lives so that the truth would survive, even if they did not.”

Leading this band of resistance fighters was historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who masterminded  “one of the most astonishing research projects in human history” according to Culture.pl, a government-sponsored website funded by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

The archive that Ringelblum’s team of about 50 to 60 individuals assembled contains approximately 6,000 documents, written in Yiddish and Polish. Artifacts also collected include newspapers, ration and tram tickets, letters, postcards, leaflets, German orders, theater posters and candy wrappers. Original literary pieces and works of art — drawings, watercolors and cartoons — were also deposited in the archive.

Shortly after the war, the first hidden cache to be unearthed was discovered on Sept. 18, 1946. A second trove was found in 1950. A third stash, which has yet to be located despite a 2003 excavation attempt, is thought to be buried on the grounds of the Chinese embassy in Warsaw.

A Warsaw Ghetto market scene from the film.

North Shore Jewish Center congregants Marsha Belford and her husband, Wlodek Guryn, learned about the documentary last spring at the 2018 Hillel and Jewish Theological Seminary-sponsored Jewish University for a Day held at Stony Brook University.

In a plenary session, not only did Grossman talk about and show a clip of the film, which was then in production, but Dr. Eleonora Bergman of  the Ringelblum Archive also spoke.

“Bringing this documentary to our synagogue started with my husband’s friendship with Eleonora Bergman, who is also a Polish Jew and who grew up on the same street in Warsaw as he did,” said Belford in a recent interview. “Dr. Bergman served as director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw [2007-2011] and is still very much involved with the Ringelblum Archive.”

For her extensive work, Bergman received the French Légion d’Honneur in 2012. She and Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein shared the 2017 Jan Karski and Pola Nireneka Prize, awarded by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for their work coordinating the publication of the Ringelblum Archive.

Belford patiently awaited the film’s release because she appreciates Holocaust testimonies for very personal reasons. “My husband’s parents escaped Pinsk and survived the war as Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union,” she said. “Originally from Hungary, my mother — whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis — was a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.”

Members of the cast

When Belford learned that the documentary would be shown at the U.N. as part of its International Holocaust Remembrance Week observances and also at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove — but nowhere in Suffolk County — she contacted the organizer of NSJC’s annual Jewish film festival, Robin Appel.

Belford is grateful to Appel for her expertise and assistance in obtaining the film. “It was Robin who handled all the negotiations that made the NSJC screening possible,” she said.

North Shore Jewish Center Rabbi Aaron Bensen is delighted to offer the community a chance to see this important film. 

“I am tremendously proud to be hosting this screening,” said Benson. “We’ve held an annual Jewish film festival for a decade now, thanks to a team that researches and selects excellent Jewish, Israeli and Holocaust-themed films. Bringing ‘Who Will Write Our History’ to the area is a major accomplishment for the group.”

“We’re also happy to be partnering with Temple Isaiah [in Stony Brook] as sponsors,” he added, “since it is a wonderful opportunity to engage a broader audience on this important topic.”

After the war, Rachel Auerbach — one of only three members of Oyneg Shabes to survive — noted the importance of informing the wider world: “We wrote, collected, guarded and hid while in the circumstances of our own destruction. We prepared the register of our own suffering and death, not for ourselves, but for other Jews. For the Jewish community of the wide world.”

Thanks to Auerbach and her courageous cohorts, that perspective will reach the eyes and ears of Suffolk County and beyond Jan. 27 via the film “Who Will Write Our History.”

All photos by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

Mary Speers says goodbye to a congregant of Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo from Facebook

As the congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church look to the future, one pastor has her mind on retirement.

The Rev. Mary Speers, 65, who pastored at the church for nearly six years, said her last sermon in Setauket Nov. 30. Temporarily taking over the role as interim pastor is Kate Jones Calone who is known for her work with the Open Door Exchange, an outreach program of the church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need.

After members of Setauket Presbyterian conducted its most recent mission study and put together a five-year plan, Speers started asking herself if she wanted to work another five years, considering she was thinking of retiring in May when she turns 66.

The Rev. Mary Speers, left holding dog, at a past Christmas Eve Manger Service at Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo from Mary Speers

The reverend said she was already researching houses in Baltimore. Speers said she wished to move there due to a lot of social justice work needing to be done in the city, along with her love for small-city life. The pastor said if she bought a home before she retired, she could rent it out.

When she decided it would be best for Setauket Presbyterian church members to find someone who would be there for the long haul, she called the Presbytery office in Maryland to see if there were any churches looking for an interim pastor. She said soon after her request, she received a call that congregants of a church in the city were looking for someone. Around the same time, her real estate agent found a home for her.

She said the church members of Setauket Presbyterian understood her need to move as soon as possible and for the small Maryland church’s need for a pastor after theirs left in July 2018.

“They said, ‘You know what, why don’t you let them have a pastor for Advent,’” she said. “‘We’ll be fine.’ That was really sweet of them.”

Speers said she’ll miss pastoring at Setauket Presbyterian Church, where she described the congregants as “putting feet on faith.”

“The congregation is absolutely wonderful,” she said. “They are so involved in the running of the place.”

The pastor said after working and living in Setauket since February of 2013, in addition to the church members, she will miss her time in the Three Village area where she kayaked and picked beach plums at West Meadow Beach, with which she made jam.

Debra Dwyer, an elder with the church, said she switched churches three years ago and credits Speers with her becoming a member of Setauket Presbyterian. She described the pastor as strong and passionate.

Dwyer said she and one of her daughters Emily visited the church on one Youth Mission Sunday during which young church members reported about their recent mission trip to Washington, D.C., to work with the homeless. Based on that visit, Dwyer and her daughter came back one day when Speers was preaching.

“She preached on social issues,” the church elder said. “She applied the bible and scripture in a way that I was so impressed. What she was able to do was get a message out that was truly Christian and that was truly socially just in a way that was not controversial so that everyone could hear it.”

While Dwyer will miss Speers, she said she admires Jones Calone for her peace and justice missions and looks forward to her pastoring.

“For us, this is just a family member getting promoted,” she said.

Speers said she knows Jones Calone will do great in her role as interim pastor because she knows the church’s dynamics.

“She has a great head on her shoulder,” she said. “She’s very pastoral, but she also has excellent boundaries.”

The members of Setauket Presyterian Church welcomed interim pastor Kate Jones Calone with a cake. Photo by Sandy Bond

Jones Calone, 44, who is a wife and mother of three children ranging in age from 7 to 13, has been involved in the church since 2011 when she started as an assistant pastor. She was in the role for nearly five years, and during that time, launched and became the director of Open Door Exchange.

“I’m incredibly so grateful and excited to be serving Setauket Presbyterian Church in this point in the life of the congregation,” she said.

During this transitional time, she said she is excited to help the congregants, whom she described as loving and dedicated, with their plans, which include figuring out how to help people connect with their faith in new ways. She said the church will continue its mission to learn how they can be good stewards of the funds they receive.

In addition to running the Open Door Exchange, every Wednesday the church members volunteer at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson, which serves hot, homemade meals with volunteers from several area churches.

Jones Calone, who officially became interim pastor Jan. 9, said Speers will be missed, and she always appreciated her support when Open Door Exchange was initiated.

“Mary brought a real creativity in her leadership in a lot of different ways, including worship, and I always appreciated that,” Jones Calone said. “I also think about how I really appreciated when we came to her and said, ‘We have this idea for starting this new outreach program.’ She never hesitated and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s figure out a way to make this happen, what kind of support do you need.’”

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson hosted its annual celebration of Epiphany at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai Jan. 6 by once again sending eager young adults through chilling waters to reach a cross thrown into the waters celebrating the Orthodox religious holiday.

While three young men lunged for the cross, 14-year-old George Franks came up in the shallow waters holding the cross aloft. An ambulance awaited the chilled participants to warm them up directly afterward.

Father Demetrios Calogredes, who performed the day’s ceremonies, said the ceremony which celebrates the story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River, has been held since the church’s founding in 1959. The blessing is done for all forms of travel, whether by car, plane or boat, to ensure safe
journeys.

Photos clockwise from top: the three young men dash after the cross; Calogredes throws the cross into Mount Sinai Harbor; Mount Sinai resident George Franks holds up hand in triumph, and he stands holding the cross.

Photo by Donna Newman

St. James R.C. Church, 429 Route 25A, Setauket invites the community to experience the beauty and wonder of its traditional Neopolitan Nativity scenes, courtesy of Rev. Gerald Cestare, every day through Jan. 13 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (except Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve). 

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this year’s display, located once again in the Parish Center, contains thousands of figures, buildings and miniatures; even if you have seen this display in the past, there is always something new! Fr. Jerry invites everyone to share in this wonderful depiction of the true gift of Christmas, a tradition handed down to him from his grandfather. Free event. Call 631-941-4141.

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

Congregants from North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook punctuated a difficult week with a Nov. 4 event meant to inspire and unite the community.

The state of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, and to commemorate the 70th anniversary this year, North Shore Jewish Center and Temple Isaiah came together for a long-planned celebration called Celebrate Israel @ 70 which took on an additional purpose following the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 27, while many of the congregation at Tree of Life, and Jewish people at similar houses of worship across the country prayed, a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded seven others. It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States in American history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Nov. 4 celebration was aptly timed for some.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook speaks during an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It really has been a balm, a healing experience as well as a happy experience,” said Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC of the event. “Given the historic events of the past week, that the event would happen this Sunday of all times has had an extra value and meaning as a moment of healing and community togetherness, in this case surrounding something hopeful and joyous.”

Committees from both synagogues had been planning the celebration for about eight months, according to Eric Steinberg, NSJC’s chairman of the Israeli Committee. The free event featured speakers discussing technology in Israel, flight attendants from El Al Israel Airlines, water desalination and its impact helping the country grow crops in the desert, lunch, events for the congregants’ children and more.

“If you notice we’re not talking politics, we’re not talking anything about that,” Steinberg said. “This was a determined thought by the committee just to do something positive … I wanted to bring the focus of Israel to the community.”

North Shore Jewish Center also hosted events in the wake of the shooting meant as a remembrance for the victims and to provide a sense of community togetherness, according to Benson. As a precaution, the rabbi said the synagogue bolstered security ahead of the event, including a Suffolk County Police Department presence.

“In many ways, the country as a whole has been in mourning and Jewish communities have responded in much the same way as when a friend might suffer a loss,” he said. “It has never happened in quite this way to the Jewish community in America before … And while one shouldn’t go through life fearful or paranoid that people are out to hurt you, the idea that in all the ways a person is Jewish, one aspect of that is that there are people who may simply not like you because of your religious background. That is a feature of Jewish life, and it does mean that terrible things can happen because of one’s religious identity.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah echoed much of his colleague’s sentiments in speaking to those in attendance.

“Even as we remember, even as we continue to mourn, we celebrate together, we gain inspiration from each other,” he said.

Setauket United Methodist Church circa. 1909. Mechanics Hall, which was once used as a parsonage, is to the right. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

Members of a Three Village church are recalling its history with a significant milestone around the corner.

The Setauket United Methodist Church, located on the northeast corner of Route 25A and Main Street and known locally as the “light on the hill,” will be celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 14 with a special service.

Setauket United Methodist Church as it looked today. Photo from Setauket United Methodist Church

Congregants originally gathered in a schoolhouse in 1835 not far from its present location, according to church documents. The Methodist Society of Setauket was formed by Alfred Darling, Peter Darling, Charles Darling, William Cargill and Richard Terrell after attending a revival in Port Jefferson in 1843.

They first purchased what was known as the Baptist Meeting House on the corner, and in 1869 members who were employed in the local shipbuilding industry began building the current church when it was agreed that a bigger building was needed. The congregants sold the old church in 1869 and moved the building across Route 25A. The new building was dedicated Oct. 12, 1870.

Dennis Hutchinson was baptized in the church in 1939 and has been a member all his life. Through the years, he said he has seen the congregation, which currently includes approximately 500 members according to Rev. Steven Kim, grow due to developing surrounding communities and at times shrink.

Hutchinson said he remembers many renovations through the decades, including a new steeple that cost $16,000 in the late ’70s. At a horse show organized by philanthropist Ward Melville, Isaac Lyness, a member of the church, attended the event and was able to meet Melville and tell him about the steeple and the church’s historic significance in Setauket. Melville gave $4,000 to help pay for the new steeple.

“That was quite a generous gift at the time,” Hutchinson said.

Through the decades, church members held various fundraisers including fairs and bake sales, and Hutchinson said local residents always remember how the church would sell clam chowder in the spring. He said one year they made 600 quarts of chowder.

Cecelia Lundquist said during the last 10 years the church members have redecorated the sanctuary and installed a handicapped elevator. Lundquist and her husband, Bob, have been members since 1967 when they moved back to Long Island after her husband was briefly transferred to Virginia. A lawyer they knew from their church in Brooklyn told them about Setauket and suggested they join the church.

“We became members of the Setauket United Methodist Church more than 50 years ago,” Lundquist said. “It has been the center of our lives, both spiritually and socially.”

Barbara Thomas has been a member of the church since she attended as a child, and she remembers when the children would meet under the sanctuary for a brief service in the basement hall named after Samuel Gurney, a missionary with family in the area. The service would be followed by classes.

The original steeple of the 1870 church building is being painted by Ray Tyle, who was a local photographer and artist known for his aerial photographs commonly taken from the tops of flagpoles and other tall structures. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

“I remember long velvet drapes that divided the classrooms,” Thomas said. “The drapes were hung from wire which ran from the walls to the columns that braced the church.”

Thomas said the church bought Mechanics Hall, a building near Main Street that was converted into a parsonage for the pastor, and when the Sunday school and church membership  grew during World War II, to accommodate the growing congregation, an addition was built to connect what then became the former parsonage. It was named after Carl J. Norton, who once produced Christmas pageants for the church. With the addition, the church now had two offices, and the former parsonage was named after early members of the church, the VanBrunt family.

“I am still a part of this wonderful little church and sometimes I witness the return of former members,” Thomas said. “I remember with fondness the men and women who have come to guide us through the years as pastors, and I remember the many sisters and brothers who have graced the church and been a loving family to me.”

There have been approximately 75 pastors through the decades. Rev. Kim has led the congregation since 2016 and said he is looking forward to the anniversary.

“I hope people would rediscover the significance of the great spiritual heritage that has run through Setauket Methodist Church upon our 175th Anniversary,” Kim said.

Hutchinson will speak on the day of the service. He said he let Kim know he has a lot to share.

“In my little talk that I’m going to give on that Sunday, I have so many things [to share] but I should try to get them home by dark,” Hutchinson said.

The anniversary service will be held Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at the church located at 160 Main St., East Setauket. The service will include sharing memories, guest preachers, a luncheon and a
performance by musicians from The Jazz Loft. For more information about Setauket United Methodist Church and the anniversary service, visit www.setauketumc.org or call 631-941-4167.

Children remove the tarp covering the sign in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. Adrienne Lauren Photography

A Three Village community group once again is taking a stand against injustice.

On Sept. 9, after their Homecoming Sunday service, members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook unveiled a sign that asserts the congregation members stances on social justice and human dignity issues. The unveiling wasn’t the first time the congregation declared its beliefs for all to see. In 2016, the members erected a Black Lives Matter sign. During the months it was displayed, the sign was vandalized numerous times and residents against it sent various emails, according to the Rev. Margie Allen. The sign was eventually taken down.

Visitors attend the unveiling of the sign. Adrienne Lauren Photography

Allen said the current sign, just like the former, is located in front of the building and placed so drivers traveling north on Nicolls Road can see it. The sign reads: “Love is Love; Climate Change is Real; Black Lives Matter; No Human Being is Illegal; Women’s Rights are Human Rights; and All Genders are Whole, Holy & Good.” A different color of the rainbow highlights each line on the sign.

The UUFSB acquired the sign from the Unitarian Universalist Association, according to Allen. Town hall meetings were held at the sanctuary to discuss whether or not to erect a sign, and the congregation was able to choose it from several options and then modified the colors and changed the order of the declarations.

“This banner is the fulfillment of multiple votes of the congregation to put up a sign that will let our community know that we believe — we affirm — the worth and dignity of every human being,” Allen said, adding while it includes the black lives matters message, it broadens the example of who deserves access to the American Dream.

On the day of the unveiling ceremony, Allen said the congregants sang and held a procession from the sanctuary to the sign, listened to a few introductory words from Barbara Coley, co-chair of the Racial Concerns Committee, and then children cut the ropes of the tarp that was covering it. Each statement was read by an individual, and the crowd echoed it. Before heading back to the sanctuary, Allen led the group in a dedication prayer.

“I’m just really proud that the congregation as a whole has made a powerful effort to figure out how to have the kinds of conversations that we actually need in every community in our country and nationally,” Allen said. “The kind of conversations in which people who have different views come to understand the places where their views overlap and then agree to stand in those places that overlap as a community so our voices as a whole can be heard.”

Chris Filstrup, president of the board, said the board members strongly supported the installation of the sign, and congregation members were discussing a new sign for a year. He said he hopes drivers passing by will read it, enjoy it and think about the points.

“It’s a statement,” he said. “It’s our statement. These are the things which are important to us.”

He said he admires Allen for encouraging the congregants to do something, and he said the board is committed to it staying.

“We have a policy,” he said. “We’re not putting it up to invite vandalism or anything, but if there is, we will involve the authorities. We’re going to keep this sign up one way or another.”

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Rabbi Paul D. Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

A Canadian-born rabbi with an extensive background in religious education and youth outreach is the new spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah, the Reform Jewish congregation in Stony Brook. Paul D. Sidlofsky comes to Long Island from Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina, the oldest Jewish congregation in that state. His worldview has been enhanced by the experience of residing in Canada, England, Israel and the United States.

Rabbi Sidlofsky says he found his calling early in life while attending a summer camp affiliated with the North American Reform movement. He said he met rabbis there “who led services, taught Hebrew and talked about being Jewish, but they also wore sneakers, played sports and told jokes. They were not only people to be admired, but role models to whom I could relate.”

Following graduation with honors from the University of Toronto, Sidlofsky pursued graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as part of his rabbinical course. He was ordained in 1988 after completing training at Leo Baeck College in London and received a master’s in Jewish education from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. Subsequently he earned a master’s in educational administration and a doctor of religious Jewish education.

“To me, a major role of the rabbi is to be a teacher,” Sidlofsky said. “This is central to my work and affects all aspects of it. I encourage congregants to pursue lifelong Jewish education. Informal interactions, counseling and sermons all provide teaching and learning opportunities.” As the “Rappin’ Rabbi” he likes to make his teaching fun, creating raps that give a unique spin to holy days, B’nai Mitzvah, and even the Torah. 

In his prior position in Wilmington, as well as in previous congregations, the rabbi was an active participant in community and interfaith events, and he looks forward to those interactions on Long Island. One community outreach event he instituted, an Invite Your Neighbor service to welcome and inform non-Jewish members of the community about the temple and Judaism, was a success he hopes to replicate at Temple Isaiah.

Teamwork between clergy in a synagogue is crucial to creating a welcoming vibe. Rabbi and cantor must work together closely.

“Often,” said Cantor Marcey Wagner, “I spend more time with my rabbinic partner than with my spouse! That’s why I am so pleased with the choice of Rabbi Sidlofsky. He’s the kind of person I can partner with in a meaningful way. Together we’ll create the community environment here at Temple Isaiah that the congregation is thirsting for,” adding that she likes that he is open to new ideas, yet has a healthy respect for tradition as well. “When the rabbi/cantor relationship thrives, the congregation can feel it and the institution becomes stronger and healthier for it.” 

Temple President Phyllis Sterne concurs that Temple Isaiah is on the right path with its new clergy team. “I look forward to growing our congregation and having it see good times and good health in the years ahead. I’m confident that Rabbi Sidlofsky will lead us into a bright future. We welcome not only the rabbi to our Temple family, but also his lovely and talented wife, Wendy, and caring and enthusiastic teenage son, Ben. Both will add immeasurably to our community.”

For information about Temple Isaiah, located at 1404 Stony Brook Road in Stony Brook, call the temple office at 631-751-8518 or visit www.tisbny.org

Photo from Island Christian Church Demolition begins as workers clear out the old materials in the sanctuary of Island Christian Church. Photo from Island Christian Church

Construction is currently underway at Island Christian Church of East Northport for the total renovation of its sanctuary. The original building, now the youth center of the church, was built in 1965. In the mid-1980s, a major addition was undertaken, adding classrooms, offices and a 10,000-square-foot multipurpose auditorium, which is where Sunday services have been held since it opened in 1987. Since that time, another addition occurred in 2008, which increased lobby space, classrooms and offices. 

Over the last few years, it became apparent that the sanctuary space was in need of a face-lift, after 30-plus years of continual use. Called RENEW 2018, the project will entail new staging and lighting, wall covering, carpeting and HVAC. New audio, visual and lighting equipment will also be installed. 

“This is such an exciting time for Island Christian Church,” said senior pastor the Rev. Mike O’Connor, adding, “We have had so many milestones in this auditorium, including over 3,000 Sunday services, 759 baptisms, over 100 weddings almost 300 baby dedications. Now, we get to see it fully renovated for this and the next generation — for the next 30 years, the Lord willing.” 

“All the funds needed for this renovation were generously provided for by our congregation, so there is no debt,” he said.

Completion is expected sometime before Christmas 2018. In the meantime, Sunday services will be taking place in the church gymnasium, which served as the sanctuary in the original building. 

“We’ve come full circle it seems, but we are blessed to be able to have the space to accommodate our congregation during construction. In fact, the community is always welcome to check it out. Sunday service times will remain at 9 and 10:45 a.m.,” said O’Connor.

Island Christian Church is located 400 Elwood Road in East Northport. For further information, call 631-822-3000 or visit www.islandchristian.com.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center speaks during an interfaith prayer vigil June 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Normally various religious leaders getting together at the same place and time sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station June 24 was far from a laughing matter.

United States immigration policy, specifically the recently instituted “zero tolerance policy” by President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which has resulted in the detention of several thousands of people and the separation of families attempting to cross the border together, was the topic of discussion during an interfaith vigil of prayer and unity at the Synagogue Sunday.

Reverend Richard Visconti of Stony Brook Community Church performs “Give Peace a Chance” with help from Haven Sellers at an interfaith prayer vigil regarding United States immigration policy June 24. Video by Alex Petroski

Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC, Reverend Richard Visconti of Caroline Church and Cemetery in East Setauket, Reverend Chuck Van Houten of Stony Brook Community Church, Irma Solis of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, Yousuf Sayed of the Islamic Association of Long Island, Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai Israel Reform Temple and Reverend Kate Jones Calone of Setauket Presbyterian Church were among the speakers collectively denouncing the policy at the event.

“The goal is to inspire our community to advocate for national border and immigration policies guided by a basic sense of human dignity and worth for all people involved,” a press release announcing the event said. “America should be a country leading the world in compassion and human rights. In this moment, where our country falls short of that, the religious community continues to lead with morals and hope that our followers will stand together for these families.”

Moss, who also serves as chairperson for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said the leaders of the represented faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — were brought to the event through the foundations of religious traditions.

“We must stand firm, together — stand tall against these laws and rules, orders and directives that fail to protect the poor, the needy, the homeless, the immigrant — both legal and illegal — and their children from being mistreated, demonized, dehumanized and brutalized,” Moss said. “A government that fails to protect all people is not a government at all.”

Jones Calone, in addressing the dozens gathered at NSJC, likened what she described as the rising tensions brought about by the political otherization of migrants seeking refuge at American borders to sitting in a tub of water gradually getting hotter, adding it’s finally reached a boiling point.

It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

— Kate Jones Calone

“This is, appropriately, a confession, because if it takes the horror of hearing warehoused children crying to make many Christians uncomfortable with what is usual, then it has taken too long,” she said, turning to her bathtub comparison, and saying the temperature has continued to rise every time the nation is silently complicit with the demonization of certain religions, with limits or bans on certain people from certain places or with violence against people not in power. “’How awful,’ we say — a response I’ve said, heard, felt many times over the past weeks to stories that seem like bad dreams trickling out slowly at first and then printed in line after line, video segment after video segment. It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

Benson and the leaders, many of whom are members of the Three Village Clergy Council, indicated on a pamphlet handed out at the event that there are ways to help, directing those in attendance to familiesbelong.org, hias.org/take-action among others. He said the group is also planning on holding future events.

Trump signed an executive order last week designed to end family separations as the national attention to the story reached a critical mass, though as of press time around 500 of 2,300 separated parents and children detained apart at the U.S.-Mexico border have since been reunited. The policy has been both denounced by members of the Trump administration as a holdover Obama-era procedure and publicly cited as a new strategy intentionally instituted to deter asylum seekers from trying to come to America.

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