EAST COBB — Speaking of the tribulations of the last year and a half — a global pandemic, social unrest and more — Larry Sernovitz, Temple Kol Emeth’s senior rabbi, had a question for those who had tuned in for his synagogue’s 17th annual multi-faith Thanksgiving service.
“Is this the first time our world has been so challenged?” he asked.
Of course not. Nor were our problems something that couldn’t be solved with some old wisdom, the directive to love one’s neighbor. And a little bit of mango lassi couldn’t hurt.
For 17 years, Kol Emeth has hosted a pre-Thanksgiving ecumenical service, bringing together more than a dozen houses of worship representing a variety of religions, a celebration of our differences but also the fundamental beliefs we all hold in common.
Steven Lebow, the temple’s rabbi emeritus, founded the ecumenical service almost two decades ago “knowing that, you know, in a world, even 17 years ago, that was challenging that it’s important to set the example and for people to come together and show what we can do when we’re united,” Sernovitz said before the service began. “And 17 years later, you know, as much as things change … they stay the same.”
Participants in this season’s service agreed on a theme that would tie together their remarks: “rebuilding hope.” Wary still of the coronavirus, it was broadcast live online, with only a couple dozen people — among them pastors, imams and musicians — in Kol Emeth itself.
Riffing between remarks from faith leaders at the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Masji Al-Furqan of west Cobb and other institutions were the night’s emcees: Sernovitz, the Rev. Avril James, of Unity North Atlanta, and Parvinder Singh Arora, of the Sikh Educational Welfare Association.
Al-Furqan’s Amjad Taufique shared a brief story about the Prophet Muhammad, who defined “neighbor” as anyone living 40 houses to your right, left, front and back. Not any Muslim living within a 40-house radius — any person.
“God reminded us through the Quran … how important it is to reach out to all of those who are in need of your help, to help … even those who may hate you, not to stop at that point if you feel that they may not appreciate what you’re going to do for them,” he said. “That is what I believe in, that is what the Muslims believe in, and I know for sure all of my faith friends over here, of different faiths, you all believe in the same things. We reach out to our neighbor as we reach out to anybody else whether they be of our faith, any faith or no faith.”
The Rev. Joe Evans, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, shared one of his favorite lines from the Bible: “The light shines and the darkness did not — we might add will not, cannot — overcome it,” he read.
“There has been considerable darkness in the last year,” Evans continued, turning to Sernovitz. “But Larry, tonight there is light. Let us remember together that in the shadow, there is always light.”