ADL conference features St. Louis rabbi, pastor

Rabbi Noah Arnow of Kol Rinah (at left)  and Pastor Carlos Smith of the Journey church are shown during their 2018 trip to Israel, which was focused on building connections between rabbis and African-American Christian clergy.  

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Over the last several years, Noah Arnow, a white rabbi with Kol Rinah, and Carlos Smith, a Black pastor with the Journey church, developed a close friendship as they not only traveled to Israel together on an interfaith trip, but also frequently bumped into one another as the two congregations shared space amidst renovations and a swap of their buildings. 

But that has changed during the pandemic.

“You don’t bump into people anymore; you have to be much more intentional about seeing people,” said Arnow, who leads the Conservative congregation, which recently partially moved into its new building constructed at the Journey’s former location in Clayton.

So now the clergy have set an intention: to speak on a panel together as part of the national Anti-Defamation League Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate. The virtual discussion will occur on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 1 p.m. and be moderated by Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, who grew up in a multiracial family and now serves as a rabbinic scholar with Jewish Federations of North America working on issues surrounding racial justice and Jews of color. 

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Smith and Arnow “are two unique personalities that I think that have made it work. I wanted folks to hear their story,” said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the ADL.

In spite of the isolation caused by the pandemic, Smith and Arnow have continued to collaborate. After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May, Smith and Arnow attended a protest together and then led a Zoom conversation among more than 60 members of their congregations. 

But otherwise, Arnow said the two have not seen each other much.

“I’m looking forward to having that back again soon,” he said.

Aroesty said that when people consider the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities, the image that often comes to mind is of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walking together in a 1965 protest march in Selma, Ala., but that “belies what was a more difficult relationship.”

“There were a fair number of issues that made things very difficult, and yet they succeeded because they kept the same goals in mind. I think that in some ways, the same is true now,” Aroesty said. “Rabbi Arnow and Pastor Smith have their own unique challenges of how do they talk to their congregations about race and equity because that is something they both want to be doing.”

For more information on the conference, visit events.adl.org/neverisnow.

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