Temple Israel of Hollywood had some unusual guests during its Friday night Shabbat: a group of some 20 Korean American teenagers, a youth pastor, a Korean parent, and a few church youth group leaders.
The visit was the second in an exchange that Temple Israel participated in with Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church (LACPC), the first of which involved Temple Israel’s youth visiting LACPC’s Sunday youth worship service in December.
For some, it may be easy to draw the connection as to why the two groups have decided to come together. After all, Jews and Christians share at least one thing in common: the Old Testament of the Bible. Pastor Joseph Kim, the youth pastor of LACPC, shared that one of the primary reasons he decided to say yes to such an endeavor with Temple Israel was out of his hopes that the experience would deepen the youths’ understanding of the Old Testament and of the Jewish customs the youth read about in the Bible.
“I don’t know much about Jewish culture except for what I read in the Old Testament of the Bible, and I’ve never had the opportunity to interact with Jewish people or see how Jewish worship is done in their synagogues, modern day,” Kim explained in an interview in December. “And for our kids, having this kind of exposure really opens their eyes and would inform them as they grow into adults.”
“Right now, our kids have been going through Old Testament books for the past few months in their personal devotionals, and I thought it would be a cool experience for them to actually interact with the descendants of the people they’re reading about,” Kim added.
Rabbi Jocee Hudson, the religious school director at Temple Israel, initiated the exchange for a slightly different reason. Hudson had had a growing desire to change the youth students’ curriculum and provide a space for them to engage with groups of other races and faiths, she explained, and ultimately collaborate on justice efforts together.
In fact, Temple Israel has pursued interfaith justice and community service efforts with other local religious groups on numerous occasions in the past. It collaborated with Islah Muslim Social Services to give food to some 200 homeless individuals, and hosted an interfaith service on Martin Luther King’s Day.
“Interfaith connections are really important to change the city and the world for the better,” Hudson explained. “Forging these kinds of partnerships, and having these kinds of dialogues together, could ultimately lead to bigger things.”
For many of the teens, it seems that they took the experience rather simply. The taste of a different religious service, and interacting with peers of a different religious community, was simply interesting and “cool,” as many of the teens said.
It was the first time many of the Jewish youth sang along to contemporary Christian songs or listened to a Christian pastor’s sermon. And likewise, most of the Christian youth had sat in on a Jewish Shabbat for the first time, listening to the Psalms they might have read in church being sung in Hebrew and to a sermon (called a d’var Torah) about the Jewish faith.
“It was really cool for me to branch out and learn about other religions,” said Lauren Freedman, a 13-year-old who attends Temple Israel and had grown up in a Jewish school. “I would like to go back some time,” she added, saying that she hopes more exchanges like this would happen again.
“I’ve never been in a synagogue before or a Jewish worship,” said Daniel Kang, who was invited by a friend who attends LACPC. “It was a cool experience.”
Eric Choi, a 12-year-old from LACPC, said that the exchange challenged him to become more devout in his own faith.
“The experience opened up my mind and showed me that others are working just as hard to have a good relationship with God,” Choi said. “And that reminded me that I shouldn’t give up either.”