Rabbi Neal Rose of B’nai Amoona Congregation began the event with a blessing.
“In Judaism, the highest form of prayer is to give thanksgiving,” he said.
So began the St. Louis American Jewish Committee’s (AJCommittee) Thanksgiving Diversity Luncheon held on Friday at The Gatesworth, One McKnight Place. The blessing came at the end of a short program celebrating the common values Americans share.
The luncheon was attended by leaders of St. Louis’ ethnic and religious communities as part of AJCommittee’s mission which is, according to its Web site, to: safeguard and strengthen Jews and Jewish life worldwide by promoting democratic and pluralistic societies that respect the dignity of all peoples. “To accomplish our goals we need to build bridges with others,” Betsy Dennis, area director for AJCommittee, said. “So when an issue comes up, like the Lebanese war this past summer, we can call on our friends for support.”
Sister Carla Mae Streeter, who has been involved with interfaith work since 1968, said her goals of working with AJC are to break down stereotypes and to engage in real dialogues. Matthew Coen, president of the St. Louis AJC chapter, echoed that AJC is all about pluralism.
“Many of the people involved with us are leaders in their own national organizations so when they gather with their groups, they know the views of AJC and can share our perspectives with others who haven’t had any interactions with Jews or AJC.”
An example of the results of AJC’s work has been a partnership with the Indian community. Through AJC’s efforts, which include an office in Mumbai, India has become an ally of Israel cementing commonalities the two countries share: both have technology-based economies and both countries know what it’s like to live under constant threats from Muslim extremists. Another example of AJC’s work included various organizations signing letters supporting Israel during the Hezbollah attacks.
The name tags on the attendees of Friday’s luncheon reflected a kaleidoscope of ethnicities. There were recent immigrants from Ecuador, Afghanistan, Colombia, and Morocco, Asian students from Washington University, leaders from the Chinese, Hispanic, Indian, and Catholic communities, and the founder and publisher of Sabah, a national Bosnia-American newspaper.
“They are our friends,” Coen explained. “But our role is not only to have these friendships but also to have sustained support.” Coen said this support is important on the domestic stage too when working on issues such as education and separation of church and state.
Before lunch, the attendees were treated to the personal stories of recent immigrants’ journeys to America. They also read from America’s Table, A Thanksgiving Reader. This booklet features profiles of American immigrants interspersed with a narrative of America’s diverse story. It is distributed by the American Jewish Committee and is designed to be read around the Thanksgiving table. This brief reader was first published by the AJC after 9/11 in order to help unite Americans by focusing on our commonalities.
The luncheon closed with music by Deliverance, a Christian a cappella group from Washington University. The group sang a traditional hymn for Thanksgiving as well as a song of hope which expressed the members’ belief that hope is a universal theme across many cultures. The closing prayer was delivered by Rabbi Rose who demonstrated the lulav and etrog, symbols of giving thanks.
For copies of America’s Table, A Thanksgiving Reader, visit www.ajc.org to print out the book or contact the local chapter at 314-721-8866.