Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Interfaith Work makes all the Difference

July 3, 2018
Posted by: Sarah Fields, Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Manager, Peninsula

Interfaith partnerships are the cornerstone of the Jewish Community Relations Council's work across the Bay Area, and especially on the Peninsula. So, when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came to the Shoreline Amphitheater last week, I was pleased to be invited by our local LDS community along with fellow Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims. At a small reception before the concert the President of the Choir, Ron Jarrett, thanked all of us for coming and emphasized the power of song to bring people together. While I appreciated his words, and the hospitality of the evening, I must admit that I was not expecting more than music, but what truly made the evening great was a surprise at the end. 

This is when a performance became faith expressing itself through action in the best of American ways. Just before the second encore, our MC told the audience about guest conductors while the choir is on tour. Often during one of the encores a local celebrity is invited to conduct the choir. We were told such guests may not know exactly how to conduct and that past guest conductors have typically been mayors, members of congress, a coach, or a beloved member of the community who will lead the choir. Tonight, though we would be treated to a guest conductor who actually knew what he was doing!

Our special guest conductor was Timothy Seelig, the artistic Director for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Without trying to open old wounds, the LGBT community and the LDS community are not known for, forgive the pun, harmony. However, this week we were so fortunate to see a bridge being built instead of a wall.

Seeling conducted the chorus performing "This Land is Your Land." I could not but think this was an intentional and perhaps even subversive choice. There are two verses of the song that strike me as especially timely.

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn't say nothing —
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
This land was made for you and me.

The power of music brought not just the artistic director, but many members of the Gay Men’s Chorus, who were in the audience in their official shirts, together. Recognizing and celebrating moments of people of all backgrounds, faiths and identities joining as a community is powerful.

It was a wonderful “American Moment” that reminded us all that, if we are willing to keep our hearts and eyes open—wide open, we have daily chances to see something to affirm that America is the greatest country in the world. And I do not mean this in a braggadocious or jingoistic way. Simply to say the American experiment, one still very much in development, frequently outperforms and outdoes itself for the better.

There is so much work to be done to keep our region and our nation always striving to be her best. But what makes America truly great is that we can and do come together to tear down walls and build bridges. We do this through saying yes.  Say yes to your neighbors and those who are different from you. Sing songs, hold hands, offer what you can and then offer a little more. Let the words from that same Okie who inspired Bob Dylan and John Lennon remind us – this land was made for you and me.