By Anne H. Oman
November 5, 2018 1:10 p.m.
“This service will be somewhat different from our usual All Saints’ Day service,” Father Stephen Mazingo, the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, told the congregation of some 200 souls gathered for the 11 o’clock service Sunday.
The difference was visually apparent in the smattering of yarmulkes, or cloth skull caps. worn by some of the men and boys in attendance – including the eight- year- old grandson of local artist Diana Herman.
“That was my son’s yarmulke – so it’s got a history,” said Ms. Herman.
“We are here because we were invited by Father Mazingo, and to show solidarity with people outside our community” said her husband, Arthur, also an artist and an actor who is now playing the part of Luther Billis in the Amelia Musical Playhouse production of South Pacific.
The Hermans were some of the forty or so members of the Jewish community on Amelia Island who joined the Episcopal congregation at the rector’s invitation.
“You honor us with your presence, and you are welcome here,” Father Stephen told his guests. “This week, in response to the tragedy in Pittsburgh—in which 11 people attending a service in a synagogue were killed by a gunman–we reached out and asked if there was anything we could do.”
Specifically, Father Stephen talked to his friend Mark Kaufman, who, with his wife, Donna, owns and operates Story & Song Bookstore.
“Stephen called me at the bookstore,” recalled Mr. Kaufman. “He told us how shocked and saddened he was, and asked if there was anything he could do to help heal.”
Mr. Kaufman relayed the offer to the Jewish community, and Steve Leimberg, Jeff Packer and Fred Borackove sent out an email blast to members, urging them to attend the service:
“On behalf of his congregation – St Peter’s Episcopal Church –Reverend Stephen Mazingo has reached out to our community in solidarity and love…”, the email read, and included the message that the rector had sent to the people of St. Peter’s: “This week we, as a country, suffered another attack of hate and violence … In response to this hatred, perhaps instead of shouting, pointing fingers, and becoming enraged, we can use Jesus’ example. Offer words of support and love to those who may now be afraid because of these attacks…”.
Sunday, in keeping with the Episcopal tradition for All Saints’ Day, two members of the church intoned the names of the “faithful departed” – a long list of parishioners who died in the past year – as the church bell tolled mournfully. Then, Ron Price, the unofficial leader of the local Jewish community (jokingly called by some the “rabbi-in-training”) took to the lectern to read the Mourner’s Kaddish, which, he explained, dates from the first century, BCE, and is traditionally said in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, as did most of the common people of that era.
“Its analog in Christianity is The Lord’s Prayer,” said Mr. Price. “Both extoll God’s strength. And they bind our respective faith communities.”
He then read the names of “those taken from our community in Pittsburgh last week”: Daniel Stein, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger.
During the part of the service when Episcopalians reach out to each other and offer “peace,” many members of the congregation left their seats to embrace friends and strangers among the Jewish guests.
“We want you in the Jewish community to know that you are our brothers and sisters and that we will be ruled by love,” Father Stephen said.
After the service, Ron Price told a reporter about the local Jewish community: “The Amelia Island Jewish community is a havurah, a group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purpose of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services,” he explained. “We have about three hundred people – about a hundred families –on our email blast. We have a Passover Seder dinner – you know, like the Last Supper. We’re planning a Chanukah party – and we volunteer in the community, such as at the cold night shelter.”
Most of these events are held in private homes, he said. There is no temple or synagogue here, and no plans to build one (“We’ve all been there, done that, with building funds,” he said,) For high holydays, the group rents a venue and brings in a rabbi from Jacksonville.
“We’re a minority here,” he said. “And If you are Jewish, you know there is a community of Jewish people here to support you.”
Mr. Price thanked the rector for his outreach, adding: “I’d like to see more inclusion. I am hopeful that the initiative taken by St. Peter’s can lead to more meaningful interactions among the religious faiths in our island community.”
Father Stephen promised that would happen.
Both St. Peter’s people and their Jewish guests had praise and thanks for Father Stephen.
“It was a wonderful gesture,” said Steve Leimberg. “We consider the rector’s offer as just the way people should be there for each other in a time of great sadness, and of hope.”
Editor’s Note: Anne H. Oman relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications.