Religious groups ‘sound’ each other out, connect

The Catholic Worker Chorus was working it at Spiritual Sounds. Photos by Lesley Sussman

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | It’s not every day that you walk into a synagogue and hear an imam reciting the Koran, a Tibetan Buddhist lama praying from a sacred text, and various Christian and other groups singing, chanting and performing other styles of spiritual music

But that was exactly the case on the evening of Sun., Jan. 27, at the 10th Annual Spiritual Sounds concert at Town and Village Synagogue, at 334 E. 14th St. The annual event, which is held at different locations throughout the East Village, sees religious groups and their leaders gather to exhibit the sounds of their faiths and express love and respect for their neighbors and all people.

Two hours fled by filled with tears, laughter and great music, along with expressions of awe and gratitude to the one creator and appreciation of each others’ faiths and ways of worship.

Members and leaders from mainstream Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox and Latino Evangelical churches were present to participate in the program. But there were also spiritual divergents, including members of the East Village-based Catholic Worker movement. A nationwide community, the Catholic Worker’s goal is to make people aware of church teachings on social justice; the movement also provides a wide variety of social-service programs for disadvantaged people both locally and elsewhere.

Leaders from the Medina Masjid mosque were among the diverse group of East Village clerics at Spiritual Sounds.

The program opened with a peaceful Sufi incantation and closed with gospel music fireworks from the choir of Middle Collegiate Church, at 112 Second Ave., that had the audience standing on its feet.

In between, choirs from the Shul of New York, which holds shabbat services at Middle Collegiate, the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, at 59 E. Second St., and the Town and Village Synagogue performed, along with an imam from the nearby Medina Masjid mosque, at 401 E. 11th St., and Lama Pema Dorje of the locally based Nechung Foundation, at 110 First Ave.

Mixed in among the large turnout of locals and guests, there were some who came from as far away as Iran and Morocco.

The popular event is the creation of Anthony Donovan, who modestly passed the credit to Father Richard Walsh, a retired Catholic priest from Most Holy Redeemer Church. It was Donovan who, more than a decade ago, organized the Local Faiths Community, an ecumenical consortium of East Village religious leaders, all serving within a few blocks of each other. They came together to stand up to hate, prejudice and manipulations made in the name of religion, and to help and support each other in this effort.

Donovan, who has no formal religious training, said ultimately the event is about building a feeling of “family.”

“This to me is not about interfaith as much as it’s about getting to know your neighbors,” he said. “Not the ones you wish you had, but the ones you have — much like family. Each year we need this shining example more than ever.”

This year Town and Village Synagogue hosted the event, and Rabbi Larry Sebert was its emcee.

“This is a spectacular evening for all of us,” he said. “For different faith communities to come together under one roof and one God is truly a blessing.”

The event was advertised on one of the city’s LinkNYC WiFi kiosks.

The Right Reverend Father Christopher Calin, of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, said the concert brings “understanding, unity and brotherhood to the East Village.”

Imam Mohammad Yousuf, of the Medina Masjid Mosque, said, “It’s a great feeling being here. I feel very comfortable inside this synagogue among people of all religions.”

Lama Dorje told the gathering, “I’m here to show kindness to others. Let’s live together and not build a wall for other people. I hope the spirit of this concert will carry us all through the year.”

8 Responses to Religious groups ‘sound’ each other out, connect

  1. Beautiful article Lesley Sussman,

    You've been a local supporter of such neighborhood events from the very first days. Thank you so much.

    If i am to be labeled at all, it needs to be as Co-Founder…. for not one step, not one event could or would go forward without the efforts and energy of each of these brave, wise, and dynamic faith leaders. And what makes it shine is this willingness on their part…. if one is missing, there is a hole in this beautiful human tapestry.

    Truly, we are very fortunate to have each in our neighborhood. I highly recommend, religious or not, or of a different faith, to step into these sacred places and give a listen… for they are deeply thinking about the world upon us today, and giving us their all for ways of facing it and turning it around for the better…. the better of all.

    Each inspire me, every week. They help me greatly follow my own calling and passion (which is for another discussion).

    There are a few name errors if i may:

    It is Father Arthur Wendel who did first come up with the idea of sharing sounds and/or music together from our different traditions.

    Over many years before we gathered I got to know these sacred places in my neighborhood, but when the hate and prejudice in our religions name, and our name became too loud, it became imperative to at least try and feel out what others thought, to meet and talk together….

    After that and actually enjoying one another, ideas began to spontaneously arise of what to do and how. …. many ideas came into being, from food nights (not easy and much learning, and fun!), to open house walks together around the neighborhood, to open community panel discussions covering topics of import, to scrambling to stand strong together whenever hate arose, to trying to make housing more affordable in our neighborhood and preserve the community trying to survive behind the building facades, to in more recent years, Play Dates for our children, on and on.
    Spritiual Sounds is something that has stuck. Each of the ten years we have rotated sites. The hosts do the mighty work…. this year Cantor Shayna Postman deserves all the gratitude, she is a mighty gem here, and Rabbi Sebert carried the evening beautifully.

    This year we had a special guest, Esther Finger who read aloud our Affirmation Statement beautifully while we all stood together up front. The Statement remains unchanged since we wrote it in Spring 2009. Esther has come to all ten Spiritual Sounds, since she was 3 years old, with her mom of the Catholic Worker, Joanne Kennedy, and dad Michael Finger, both great encouragers and lights.

    I want to thank the Villager for covering this example of community. (continued in next comment)

  2. (continued from above)

    Spiritual Sounds has been an antidote for the day, a warming light each year, This past Christmas Eve, the best gift I received, turned around in Middle Collegiate Church service and behind me were sitting two full rows of congregants from, well, I had to ask, “Town and Village Synagogue?!” A resounding “Yes!” went up. The Synagogue president was right in the middle, smiling. The same at Town and Village's concert in November, there was the St. Mark's in the Bowery choir and others from our group. We know how to live.

    We hope every neighborhood looks around them, and introduces themselves to one another…. have tea, a meal, a chat. Say hello. What would you like to do together? what is needed where you live? How can you help each other? It’s educating hate, and putting it in it’s place. Perhaps invite and introduce your flock to the local Imam, or Rabbi, or Priest or monk?

    It's a wonderful feeling to get a familiar smile walking down the sidewalk. "Good morning Rabbi!” They need to be thanked for stretching. It takes courage. Sadly, gathering also becomes very healing and helpful when humans fail, or when a great need that arises.

    Indeed as mentioned i had no priestly training, but surely raised full out as a Roman Catholic until 5th grade when jousted to public school. It remains easy to feel my two grandmothers in prayer with the rosary beads rolling in there hands. My mom remained deeply devout till her transcending… and I still go to mass and visit Mt. Saviour Monastery for retreats, but mom was one who loved the needed reforms that Pope Frances has been calling for.
    She was full out supportive of our Local Faith gatherings, enthusiastically attended all the public events she could, and insisted to buy food for our very first official gathering together in May 2009. “Mom, we’re just gathering to talk, they may not even show up.” “You must welcome them and offer them food!” Thanks forever mom. Apples falling from the tree. "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

    My dad in his midlife search for meaning is the one who introduced me to my first Eastern meditation class in 1968 held on E 85th St.
    I was fascinated, and accompanying this, the spiritual home that same year would more often become the Filmore East on Second Avenue, where all our greats would play, and us brown, black and white kids would gather…. and get educated about awakening more to social justice, and another way to live besides war and racism. Community, with our universal language.

    But it was Brother David Steindl Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk, Rabbi Gelberman, and Swami Satchitananda who would hold regular gatherings in St. Josephs in the West Village in the mid 1970’s that gave me the clear insight of how joining together was deeply profound and human, and rewarding. It buoyed all our spirits as to what was possible….. and true. They smiled a lot. So did our hearts.

    Bless us all. If your reading this, you know everything I'm talking about. Thank you.

  3. (continued with above)

    If any interested in our Local Faith Community’s origins, this link below is a documentary that was featured at the Main Branch Public Library for their Three Faiths Exhibit in 2010:

    There is also a Sound Cloud recording for this evening at Town and Village, 1/27/19.

    recorded, edited and posted by Mitch Mernick of the Town and Village Synagogue Community. He offers it to all freely:

    Thanks to David Andersson of a great supporter of many social justice issues and interfaith events around the world, who came and recorded us as well.
    Thank each of you who came on this night, to listen, to be with us, and/or share your gift. For the choirs especially, thank you so deeply for your great efforts and creating the volunteer time on long busy days.

    This special evening, it truly gives us the clarity and strength to carry forward, and do what is right, each and every day. As many said, to Love, in action.

    Full heart. Much gratitude. Onward, together.


    • In case anyone asks, Most Holy Redeemer-Nativity is at 49:38-52:45 in the sound and the interview with Fr. Wendel is at 13:44-19:10 on the video. Thank you so much for sharing them both! take care, Margaret

  4. Your reporter did a magnificent job of capturing the spirit of the concert. I thank the paper for publishing this story.

  5. Although it is considered a "local event", I personally think it is of the United Nations caliber, and it is not one time done and forgotten, but after ten years is going more strongly – year after year. More loved and needed than ever.
    I get a spiritual boost for the whole year by attending it. There is laughter and tears, music, chanting, reciting and, most importantly, love and hope for humanity.
    Big thank you to everybody involved and thank you for the fine reflection and the pictures in the article.

  6. Affirmation Statement
    The Local Faith Communities of the East Village

    Spring 2009

    We, the local faith communities of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindu’s, and Buddhists stand here together before you in peace, and as one humanity.

    Here in the Lower East Side, with it’s over 250 year history of people from all corners of the world, all faiths, languages and cultures, seeking refuge from great oppression, hatred and poverty, we have had to learn and re-teach ourselves repeatedly about the advantages of and the goodness in tolerance and respect while living side by side.

    Let us honor the work of those generations before us who labored together, to feed, nourish, educate ourselves, build bridges, share our joys and cultural celebrations, and to establish our unique houses of worship next to each other.  

    We gather toward healing (in times of acts of hatred/prejudice), prevention, respect and understanding, in the strength of our deep common values.  We wish to encourage and reflect the greatest shining strength of our city and our nation, the best in us, our unity in our diversity.

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