Detroit MLK event draws Christians, Jews to help Israel

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Rev. DeeDee Coleman noticed while traveling through Israel last year what residents of the Middle East nation encounter regularly: bomb shelters.

The longtime pastor at Detroit’s Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church was on a trip with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which works to help renovate and build such structures there. Concerned about ones she saw in disrepair, and knowing the threat of attacks constantly looms for even children on playgrounds, the longtime advocate immediately sought a way to boost safety efforts.

“There are rockets being fired and not an ample amount of shelter available,” she said. “It is one thing to preach about Israel; it’s another thing to do something to help — something tangible that people can see and feel.”

That pushed her to pursue “Building Bridges Together — An Afternoon of Song and Inspiration.” The event, scheduled for Sunday at Coleman’s church, is expected to unite gospel and synagogue choirs as well as African American parishioners, Jewish congregations and others to raise money for building and/or renovating bomb shelters in Israel.

Coinciding with the holiday honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., who called on African Americans to reject anti-Semitism, the gathering also signals a new chapter in relations between two groups that share a long history, organizers said.

“We hope that this message of reconciliation, of brotherhood can become a dominant one in America, maybe by example, but somehow to break through the animosity and the hatred and the racism that still exists here,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

His group, which was launched in the 1980s, has worked to improve relations and understanding between Christians and Jews as well as boost support for Israel. In recent years, IFCJ also expanded its outreach to the African-American community and brought religious organizations to the Holy Land, where they glimpse the land to which their faith’s origins are traced, Eckstein said.

Coleman tapped her Metro Detroit connections to start the unity venture and reachedRabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills, who agreed to involve the synagogue.

The joint push to raise money for the Israel project not only helps others but highlights harmony, Bergman said.

“I love the different faith traditions coming together and just being together. Even though there are differences, this is something that just reminds us of our common humanity,” he said. “And since all the issues that Dr. King fought for have not yet been fully resolved, I think it’s a good reminder of what we should be focusing on.”

Bonds between blacks and Jews are not new, said the Rev. E.L. Branch, senior pastor of Third New Hope Baptist Church, who has a master’s degree in religious studies and divinity degree in Biblical studies. He has addressed the topic during lectures collected in a booklet the IFCJ recently published.

Jews contributed to the NAACP’s founding and “were commonly present during the civil rights movement and stood with us as our partners,” he said. “Nothing binds people together like a common pain. Our histories are parallel though in different time periods. The whole notion of slavery and oppression, the state of being marginalized and ostracized because of your race and your ethnic background — all of that brought Jews and African Americans together.”

The ties resonate in the present and across Metro Detroit as well, which made it easier for the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity to draw participants for Sunday’s event, said the Rev. Lawrence C. Glass, Jr., the group’s president.

“Partnering up with them is natural,” said Glass, pastor at El Bethel Baptist Church in Redford Township. “There’s mutual respect and support for each other. They help us in times of crisis when we felt the need for extra help with Black Lives Matter, and issues that concern the African-American community. We do likewise with them because we all need each other.”

Depending on how much is raised Sunday, the money could either renovate bomb shelters or build a new one, Eckstein said.

Such cooperative efforts are needed in increasingly turbulent times, Eckstein said. “It’s more important than ever that we build these friendships, that we build these alliances, that we build these strategic partnerships and come together to face the threats against us all. … It’s our way of trying to light a candle in the midst of all the darkness.”

(313) 222-2117

“Building Bridges Together — An Afternoon of Song and Inspiration”

When : 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church, 8700 Chrysler Service Drive, Detroit

What : Musical event sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews/American Israel Public Affairs Committee honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and raising money to renovate or build a bomb shelter in Israel. Guests include the Adat Shalom Synagogue and Russell Street choirs; acclaimed soprano Lauren Skuce Gross; jazz pianist Cliff Monear; gospel solo artist Darla Spinner; and the Russell Street and Hillel Day School youth choirs.

For information : (248) 851-5100 or (313) 875-2458