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Louisville Black churches and synagogues partner to build connections

Two people stand in front of a group sitting down at several tables. To the right of them, a PowerPoint presentation is displayed.
Matt Golden
Jewish and Black faith leader in Louisville gathered their congregations to build connections through faith, shared experiences and music.

A series of meetings done in partnership with theLouisville Orchestra’s Journeys of Faith concert, which explores the works of Jewish and Black artists, is connecting these communities through music and life experiences.

“It was an opportunity for us to get to know folks and to connect with people from another marginalized community in a way that felt deeply meaningful, and also had the potential to grow beyond just this one initiative,” Keneseth Israel Rabbi Ben Freed said.

Keneseth Israel partnered with Burnett Avenue Baptist Church for their meetings. Freed said several moments throughout their meetings have stuck with him.

“There have been some wonderful moments of shared connection between people and people realizing that their stories are intertwined in ways that they perhaps never realized,” Freed said.

These moments of organic connection were the goals of the meetings. Matt Golden, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, was a driving force in pairing Black churches and synagogues together for the initiative.

“If we can just … figure out how to get in each other's houses, if we figured out how to just talk to each other, we're going to find we’re a ton closer to one another than we ever thought before,” Golden said.

Participating faith leaders hope that by highlighting those commonalities, marginalized communities can aid each other.

“I think when we are divided among marginalized communities that we do more harm to ourselves than good, and so coming together was really critical,” said Vincent James, pastor at Elim Baptist Church and Dare to Care CEO.

James found music was a great starting point to begin understanding the ways both Black and Jewish people dealt with and continue to handle marginalization.

He said the balance between oppression and celebration can be seen in two of the Louisville Orchestra’s featured artists: writer James Baldwin and composer Leonard Bernstein.

“When you listen to the various pieces in the music, you can hear the pain, but you can also hear the joy, and that's the way life is. Life is filled with both pain and joy,” James said.

These conversations provide not only a space to share in experiences of oppression but also a place to share in joy and triumphs.

“It’s one thing to be able to look around when something bad happens and to rely on each other, but to be with each other when we're celebrating makes all of it better,” Freed said. “You can show up at someone's funeral, and it's meaningful for you to be there. But it's even more fun and more exciting to be able to dance at the wedding.”

The leaders who helped put together and guide these conversations said they hope this initiative can continue to grow and expand.

“These pairs have already shown that we can show up, we can work together to build out some understandings and awareness, and then we can convene,” Golden said. “So I think if you can get people to motivate and move — and I think these folks seem to be in that space — I think that the world can change.”

Festival of American Music 2: Journeys of Faith takes place at Whitney Hall on March 11.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.