Spring 2000
Volume 4 Number 4

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by Elizabeth Terrill

"The Hebrew Scriptures are alive and well today," says the Reverend Dr. Kim Nelson, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Salinas, California. "If we’re going to be serious about what it means to believe in the living God, God of the past, present, and future, we need to take a look at what that means for our lives, at what we do with that."

Nelson, a 1977 graduate of Princeton Seminary, doesn’t take these sentiments lightly. "Our statements need to be more than words," he explains. After a rash of anti-Semitic violence swept parts of the nation last summer, Nelson got a chance to show the depth of his commitment to converting theological concepts into meaningful action.

The Rev. Kim Nelson and Rabbi Bruce KaddenThe events of last summer were chilling, leading many Jewish communities to fear for their own safety. "There had been three synagogue arsons in Sacramento," says Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Salinas’s Temple Beth El, or House of God. "There were shootings in the Midwest of some Jews leaving synagogue after service on a Friday evening, and the shootings at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. We were trying to temper fear with the idea that these crimes were not just against the Jewish community, that they might be coincidental. But we still needed to be realistic, and look at the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall. Did we need security for our services?"

Kadden shared his concerns with Nelson when the men, who’ve been friends since Kadden came to Salinas about fifteen years ago, bumped into each other at the local YMCA. Nelson took the issue to Northminster, suggesting to the congregation’s leaders that the church be a presence at Temple Beth El, helping their Jewish brothers and sisters worship God in the ways their tradition prescribes. The people of Northminster quickly agreed.

"It was something we could do to give them peace," says Marjie Washburn, who served as part of the security force along with her husband, John, who calls the effort "a presence of friends. We were saying, ‘We’re your eyes while you’re inside worshipping God.’"

Between six and twenty Northminster parishioners patrolled Temple Beth El’s parking lot and sidewalks, walking in pairs from 8:30 a.m. until evening services were over throughout the nine days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the most sacred days of the Jewish calendar. "It was very meaningful to be there," Marjie says. "The people were very gracious in the temple, and so appreciative. They fast during their high holy days, but there was food provided for us. It was something that I could do, that I wanted to do."

The Washburns, who host one of Northminster’s evening Bible study groups at their home, especially appreciated the chance to better understand Jewish customs and beliefs. The class decided to become a living Bible study by donating their weekly meeting time to the security project.

 


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