Rabbi Joins Interfaith Group to Help Rebuild Burned Church

The Clinton and Gore families had some help when they pitched in this week to rebuild Salem Baptist Church in Fruitland, Tenn., which had been destroyed by arson last year.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, was part of an interfaith delegation organized by the National Council of Churches that went to the predominantly black church to demonstrate broad concern for the community.

The AJCommittee and the National Council of Catholic Bishops are participating in the National Council of Churches’ Burned Churches Fund, which so far has raised $9 million in donations.

The National Council of Churches is an umbrella group for Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations.

The interfaith delegation, led by the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, presented a check for $105,000 to the congregation for aid in restoring its church. That amount included an $8,000 gift from the New York Board of Rabbis.

Since the beginning of 1995, 190 churches have been destroyed by fire, most of them in the Southeast. Seventy have been black churches.

Rudin said in a telephone interview that the AJCommittee is planning to “adopt” a black church that was destroyed in Mississippi and work closely with the community there to rebuild it.

Other Jewish groups have also been involved in the effort to rebuild the churches.

“People don’t realize that it’s more than just the physical building. It’s replacing the organ, the robes, the Bibles that were destroyed,” Rudin said.

He said his visit to Fruitland made him aware of the ways in which synagogues and black churches play a similar role in their communities.

“In many ways it’s their community center, with day care, senior citizens programs, things for single parents and counseling,” he said.

“You’re out in what can only be described as a shtetl, except that it’s Fruitland, Tenn., where they grow soybeans and corn,” he said. “Church plays a major role in the life of this community.”

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