Sunday’s 10th Anniversary Arts & Faith Interfaith Concert: It all began with Klinghoffer

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Brian Mulligan and Nancy Maultsby perform in rehearsals for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production of ‘The Death Of Klinghoffer.’ Photo: Ken Howard/OTSL

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky and Batya Abramson-Goldstein

We, as former Chair of the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and former JCRC Executive Director, were pleased that Eric Berger’s Sept. 1 article in the Jewish Light brought focus to the 10th Anniversary Arts & Faith Interfaith Concert to be held virtually on Sept. 12. (The concert is scheduled for 4 p.m. You can view it in a number of places, including at Hecmedia.org and HEC-TV. Find more information here.)

We often say, “It all began with Klinghoffer.” In spring 2010, more than a year before the opera’s opening, Timothy O’Leary, general director at Opera Theatre of St. Louis since 2008, reached out to Batya to share the plan to produce the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” and asked for help. To state that this opera, dealing with an act of Palestinian terrorism, had evoked strong responses across the country would be understating the issue. We vividly remember how grateful we were to have a vehicle, within the JCRC in the newly formed Newmark Institute, which could and would effectively respond to this request.

Batya Abramson- Goldstein

The Newmark Institute’s mission statement lays out a commitment to the concept of a pluralistic society where diverse religious, racial and ethnic groups live and work together and their differences enhance the community. The Newmarks’ vision was of a body within the JCRC that would advance pluralism, interfaith relations and civility among all people.

The Newmark Institute Advisory Board viewed the opera’s arrival as an opportunity to further these goals.  The Newmark Institute then formed a steering committee of a dozen Muslims, Jews and Christians to prepare the community for the opera’s arrival. Together this team created a range of community dialogues and developed educational materials about “Klinghoffer.”

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The success of the ‘Klinghoffer’ effort made it a natural next step to approach the upcoming 10thanniversary of 9/11 as an additional opportunity to utilize the power of music. Instead of speaker after speaker, the thought was, “Let’s do it in music; let’s have a commemoration in music.” And, because of the existing relationship, Batya was able to call Timothy O’Leary and say: “Tim, we have an out of the box idea. Do you think this could happen?”

Rabbi Howard G. Kaplansky

It did happen — with the enthusiastic engagement of Opera Theatre, the Newmark Institute, the Sheldon Concert Hall and Interfaith Partnership.

The success of this interfaith and intergroup concert demonstrated the transformational power of a shared musical experience. This later encouraged the organizers to form Arts & Faith St. Louis with the mission of “building a more harmonious St. Louis, using the power of the arts to bring people of different faiths together to learn about our differences, appreciate our common bonds and share common experiences.”

Before Arts & Faith St. Louis’ fifth annual interfaith concert, performers rehearsed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Yes, it all began with Klinghoffer. The Newmark Institute’s work with Opera Theatre in 2011, around community response to the production of the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” led to the creation of a 10thanniversary  9/11 commemoration in music, which led to the creation of Arts & Faith St. Louis and a yearly interfaith concert. In recent years through its Community Programming Initiative (CPI), Arts & Faith expanded its reach with a wide range of projects.  Each program has served to bring groups together through artistic expressions that serve as a vehicle for community togetherness and interfaith connections.

Ten years have passed. The late, deeply missed Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in her article about an Opera Theatre symposium featuring members of the Klinghoffer steering committee wrote, “In other cities, outrage at the ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ has caused picketing, controversy and, sometimes, canceled performances. In St. Louis, where the opera is receiving its first staged North American production in 20 years, it has caused an outbreak of interfaith understanding and civility……that spirit was illustrated in a panel discussion of the opera and its implications by three leaders, one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim.”

It was in the interest of promoting “pluralism, the inalienable dignity of the human person, interfaith understanding and civility” that the Newmark Institute was established. It was with these goals in mind that the Newmark Institute warmly welcomed Timothy O’Leary’s request to work together. It is with these goals in mind that the Newmark Institute continues as a proud partner of Arts & Faith St. Louis looking forward to many more years of collaboration in reaching these goals.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, now retired, was former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Rabbi Howard Kaplansky is the Founding Chair, Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations at the JCRC

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