Once again and its Interfaith Relations Committee brought together members of religious communities from one end of the San Fernando Valley to the other to commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Attendees were welcomed to the Twelfth Church of Christ Scientist by members of Greater Community Missionary Baptists Church in Sylmar. Monday night was the council’s 23rd annual celebration in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
To honor Dr. King is in perfect keeping with the council’s origins. In 1964, a group of Valley activists got together to fight against California Proposition 14, an attempt to repeal the Rumford Act which guaranteed an end to racial discrimination in housing in the state.
Florence Adler, 92, and her late husband Jerry were two of those organizers. They were long-time members of in Valley Village. She remembers, “Those of us who were working together, we came from all religions and denominations and a group of us decided since we were working so well together we should continue.”
Thus was born the Valley Interfaith Commission. Members continued to work on social justice issues as an interfaith community. In response to local economic crises, the group was called upon and funded to deliver social services as well. The council was established and it now runs meals-on-wheels, transportation services, three multi-service senior centers, including the East Valley Multipurpose, and 11 emergency food pantries.
Adler was there in 1983 when the North Hollywood Interfaith Food was conceived. He recalled, “Marj Luke and I were at a VIC meeting and…we came up with the idea that we should be doing some kind of service in the North Hollywood area because my temple was there.”
Temple Beth Hillel’s rabbi was one of the first to join the pantry coalition. Rabbi Jim Kaufman offered the synagogue’s basement, still in use today, to store donated food. The s distribution site is at the
View the video to experience the evening’s program. Committee chair Bill Downs, of Sherman Oaks, hosted the celebration at his own church. After an organ prelude by Sharry Wilson and a song from William Lomax, Downs welcomed the audience and introduced Linda Abrums, the council’s board president who described the origins of the interfaith council and explained how its mission conforms with the teachings of Dr. King.
Rev. Craig Peterson, of Woodland Hills Community Church recalled Dr. King’s visit to the church in 1961 and read parts of the sermon he delivered that day.
Love yourself, if that means rational, healthy and moral self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. But never forget that there is a first and even greater commandment, ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind.’ This is the height of life. And when you do this you live the complete life.
Readings and prayers were offered by Hindus Laura Fine and Sarina Michaels, Buddhist Katherine Rousseau, Baha’i Satareh Safari. Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council gave readings from the three Abrahamic faiths.
Keynote speaker Carissa Baldwin, Episcopal priest and Director of Peace and Justice at All Saints Church in Pasadena, praised Valley Interfaith Council for their service to and defense of the defenseless. She began by reading the council’s statement to the press of last September decrying “the voices of intolerance” directed at “our Muslim friends and neighbors.” She praised the council for its foresight in understanding the power of language. Baldwin went on to pay tribute to the organization for its senior service programs, for “making the invisible visible.”
Then she talked about her intention focus her work on “the tale of two cities…the growing gap between those who have and those who don’t,” and emphasized how powerful interfaith connections can be in fostering change. Baldwin ended her address by reminding the audience that one of Dr. King’s final campaigns was for wage justice and the dignity of workers, drawing shouts of approval and applause from her listeners.
The program ended with all joining to sing of their vision for the world, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”