Operation Tent of Abraham and Sarah
Standing before a packed
room of supporters, media and
members of United Synagogue
on a hot Tuesday morning in
early June, Rabbi Steven Wernick
recited Birkat Kohanim.
United Synagogue's CEO was offering the
ancient priestly blessing invoking God's protection
for Pastor Corey Brooks and his supporters
as they embarked on the Walk Across
America to End Violence. The walk was part
of Brooks' Project H.O.O.D. (Helping Others
Obtain Destiny), a campaign to raise
awareness about gun violence.
The blessing delivered by Rabbi Wernick
to Pastor Brooks, the spiritual leader of New
Beginnings Church in Chicago, was just
one of many spiritually-charged moments
on the first day of the anti-violence walk.
Sounding at times more like a prayer service
than a press conference, the rabbi and
pastor took turns sermonizing about the
need to take a stand against the “scourge
of violence,” calling it an “illness” and a
“plague,” and finally, “a humanitarian issue.”
Both Rabbi Wernick and Pastor Brooks
quoted freely from the Bible, using examples
of those who walked together – like
Isaac and Abraham – and stood up to wrongdoing
– like Queen Esther. “We need to see
the image of God in every person,” said Wernick.
“It is our responsibility. It is our mandate
to follow Isaac and Abraham.”
Abraham was invoked in two other ways
during the event. The first was when Wernick
announced the creation of Operation
Tent of Abraham and Sarah, an initiative to
support Brooks, the walk and Project
H.O.O.D. by creating a national network
of kehillot to provide the pastor and his
entourage hospitality and support and a pulpit
in the Jewish community as they made
their way across the country.
The second invocation of Abraham had
to do with a modern-day personality – the
rabbi and teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel
who modeled the importance of Black/Jewish
solidarity on issues of social justice and
demonstrated the importance, in his now
famous expression, of “praying with our feet.”
Indeed, Heschel's saying was printed on the
back of the t-shirts worn by participants in
the Walk Across America to End Violence.
Walking from Midtown to Harlem, Side by Side
The Heschel quote was brought to Brooks'
attention by Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe
Emet Synagogue in Chicago, who joined
the walk to Harlem. Indeed, the involvement
of United Synagogue in the walk builds
on the bond developed by Siegel and Brooks,
who are both committed to re-energizing
the relationship between Blacks and Jews in
this country. Project H.O.O.D's (http://projecthood.
org) mission is to end violence and
build strong, vibrant communities, one
‘neighbor H.O.O.D' at a time by empowering
people with the resources, information
and tools necessary to become
peacemakers, problem solvers, leaders, and
entrepreneurs in their own communities.
The Walk Across America is the second
phase of Brooks' ongoing efforts to develop
a state-of-the art community and economic
development center in Chicago. The center
will not only serve as a prototype for cities
across the country, but will also become the
epicenter for the training and empowerment
of both aspiring and existing community
One of the first stops along the way of
Operation Tent of Abraham and Sarah was
Newark's Congregation Ahavas Sholem.
A moving YouTube video captures the visit
and the hospitality extended by the synagogue.
It is accessible here.
Wernick is especially adamant about the
imperative of ending gun violence in our
society. “It is the God-given right of every
human being to live a life that is safe from
the threat of harm or violent and untimely
death,” he said. “Gun violence is a modern
scourge that requires a coordinated and
proactive campaign of resistance and re-education.
When the pro-gun lobby cites the
Constitution's Second Amendment right to
bear arms, they are misconstruing the original
intent of our forefathers who surely did
not intend to create a Wild West-type of
United Synagogue's involvement in Project
H.O.O.D. and the walk is a natural consequence
of its public policy and social justice
programs. It has a long record of resolutions
against gun violence. As part of Operation
Tent of Abraham and Sarah, United
Synagogue is also encouraging its kehillot
to stage teach-ins about the scourge of gun
violence in America during the Walk Across
America to End Violence.
“Houses of worship are the 21st century
version of the village square within
which the community can gather to learn
and remind one another that we are
all created in the image of God,” said