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December 21, 1973 - Image 39

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1973-12-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Church-Synagogue Covenant Splits Over Minister's Anti-Israel Actions

NEW YORK — A 19-year-
old experiment in brother-
hood, the dream of a rabbi
and a minister, has come
crashing, in part the victim
of the Yom Kippur War.
The experiment was a
joint covenant between the
Brotherhood Synagogue and
the Village Presbyterian
Church on W. 13th St. in

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Greenwich Village. For 19
years, the synagogue and the
church had shared facilities
in the imposing Greek Revial
sanctuary.
Seventeen of those years
had been in harmony, the
product of a warm relation-
ship between the late Dr.
Jesse Stitt and Rabbi Irving
Block. But two years ago,
Dr. Stitt retired, and he died
soon afterward.
His replacement, Rev. Wil-
liam Glenesk (remembered
for his officiating at the tele-
vision wedding of Tiny Tim
and his bride) brought the
change, which culminated
Nov. 7 in the synagogue's
decision to separate from the
church.
The synagogue numbers
some 600 members, and the
church about 100, a ratio that
prompted Rev. Glenesk to
complain:

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"The synagogue takes
everything and gives nothing
to the church. We're a small
minority, overwhelmed by a
large Jewish majority, in-
timidated by them. Why, I
feel like a displaced Pales-
tinian here."
The latter statement re-
flects what the culminating
quarrel was all about and
the reason that the syna-
gogue congregation agreed
so readily to split from the
church.
An article describing the
schism, written by Dorothy
Rabinowitz in New York
magazine, relates how Rev.
Glenesk had reacted vehe-
mently to a solidarity rally
for Israel held outside the
sanctuary. A sign was posted
on the synagogue bulletin
board which read, "May
there be victory and peace
for Israel."
Rev. Glenesk wrote in re-
sponse in the Presbyterian
Church bulletin, "To our
friends, Arabs, non-Zionist
Jews, and all who are of-
fended by the arrogant, self-
righteous sign posted outside
our sanctuary re 'Victory for
Israel,' we offer our regrets
and prayers for peace."
He also took objection to
the fact that the Jewish ark
is installed permanently be-
hind the pulpit and is simply
covered by a velvet curtain
on Christian holy days and
Sundays.
Rabbi Block, listing the
complaints
against Rev.
Glenesk, said, "We have
been made to feel unwanted
here. It has taken a long
time to come to this. For 19
years, the church and its
minister did not find the ark
objectionable. Now we hear
from Rev. Glenesk that he
sees the crucifix being car-
ried in and out like a theatri-
cal prop, while the ark stays
en . . . as he says, a 'symbol
of arrogant piety.' "
Rev. Glenesk regularly af-
fixes to the church bulletin
boards copies of "The Link,"
published by the Americans
for Middle East Understand-
ing, an Arabist propaganda
magazine.
On the Sunday following
appearance of a story on the
church-synagogue split in the
New York Times, Glenesk's
services drew 11 members.
Over coffee later, he told his
parishioners about Israel:
"You see, God does punish
his Chosen People; He di-
minishes their numbers."
He complained that the
New York Times article
was unfair to him. When re-
porter Rabinowitz asked why
the Times would want to be
unfair to him, Rev. Glenesk
responded: "Oh—Arthur Gelb
and A. M. Rosenthal are
Jews."
He also complained that
the rabbi interfered with the
minister's use of the church
for theatricals and that the
synagogue was unwilling to
pay more than two-thirds of
the maintenance fees.
Rev. Glenesk insisted that
he was not anti-Semitic, but
that his Christian congrega-
tion extends to churches in
Egypt, Beirut and Syria.
"The Jews should understand
this. Oh, I think Israel
should be there, but not as a
racist state."
(The New York magazine
reporter noted the words of
a rabbi, who said in response
to charges of Israel being a
racist state: "It is seldom
noted by (them) that 11
Moslem states have Islam as
the official religion. They
don't mention that 20,000

Greek Orthodox Christians
have been driven out of
Egypt.")
Rev. Glenesk will not go
unchallenged by his congre-
gants. Dorothy Sulsona,
president of the church's
women's society, said, "What
I want is for Glenesk to
leave and for the rabbi and
the synagogue to stay. We've
had a beautiful thing here
for 19 years. We've prepared
a petition of recall to the
presbytery."
The head of the local block
association said that half of
the congregation is expected
to leave Rev. Glenesk if the
rabbi and synagogue leave.
His removal does not ap-
pear likely, however. There
are too many Presbyterian
foreign missions, including
Arab Christians, around to
warrant the church hier-
archy's taking Glenesk's pul-
pit away from him.
Rev. William Harter, a
Presbyterian minister, com-
plained: "Whenever there is
a Jewish-gentile rupture of
this kind, I always recognize
the fine hand of the anti-
Israel crew in the church.
There are relatively few of
them, but they're right there
in the bureaucracy."
As to the fate of the syna-
gogue, a shift of sites pre-
sents some special problems,
writes Ben Gallob of the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Some 60 per cent of its mem-
bers live in the immediate
area and another 20 per cent
nearby. The congregation,
mirroring the lifestyles of
the Village, has an unusually
large number of "singles"
members.
The congregation cannot
move too far from its present
location w i t h o u t risking
heavy losses in membership.

Rabbi Block, who wears a
skullcap, calls his congrega-
tion "liberal - conservative."
The Friday evening service
uses the prayerbook of the
Union of American Hebrew
Congregations, the Reform
congregational agency.
The prayerbook of the Rab-
binical Assembly, the associ-
ation of Conservative rabbis,
is used at Saturday morning
services. The congregation
does not belong to either the
Reform or Conservative con-
gregational associations.
Neither members nor non-
members are charged fees
for High Holy Day seats.
Charges are included in dues
for members, and nonmem-
bers are not charged at all,
though each gets a card sug-
gesting that it is a mitzva
to contribute to the support
of a house of worship.
The congregation is deter-
mined to continue also its
many out-reach programs.
One is Bet Kafe, a coffee-
house for rootless young

people, described as the first
free Jewish coffee house in
New York.
Another is a program in
which religious education is
provided for retarded chil-
dren, age 8 to 16. The
Brotherhood Council, a group
of congregants from the
synagogue and church, has
been contributing $1,000 a
year to cover costs of the
program.
Still another program is a
family counseling service,
started in 1956, through
which troubled persons in
the area can get referrals to
experts who can help them.
All of these programs are
available to the community,
Rabbi Block said.

The greatest problem of
Western civilization is that
it is breeding from the bot-
tom and dying from the top.
—Will Durant.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 114
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Friday, Dec. 21, 1973-39

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