Faith In Brooklyn for October 2

Plymouth Members’ Newly Book Explores Landmark Church’s Role in Civil War Era

Plymouth Church is the subject of a new book that explores the landmark congregation’s role during in the United States’ great struggle to remain a single nation.

The History Press announced this week the release of the title, Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom.

Author Frank Decker is a longtime Plymouth member. Assisting him was Lois Rosebrooks, director of the church’s History Ministry.

As the financial capital of the nation, Manhattan had close ties and strong sympathies with the South. But across the East River in Brooklyn stood a bastion of antislavery sentiment—Plymouth Church—led by Henry Ward Beecher. He guided his congregants in a crusade against the institution of slavery. They held mock slave auctions, raised money to purchase freedom for slaves and sent guns—nicknamed “Beecher’s Bibles”— to those struggling for a free Kansas. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Beecher’s sister, wrote the influential book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Lewis Tappan and George Whipple led an enormous effort to educate freed slaves. Plymouth Church was not only publicly important in the fight for abolition, but also a busy Underground Railroad station. Once the Civil War broke out, the congregation helped raise troops and supplies for the U.S. Army.

A longtime member of Plymouth Church, Decker was a member of its governing council from 1993 to 1999. As the council president for three years, he led the church’s observance in 1997 of the 150th anniversary of its founding. In 2007, he and Lois Rosebrooks prepared and submitted for Plymouth Church an application to the United States National Park Service to have the church listed as a site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. They met with success. In 2009, Decker wrote and presented a paper on Henry Ward Beecher and the Plymouth congregation in the antislavery cause to a symposium on “Congregationalism in the Public Square.” The paper was published in the International Congregational Journal.

In 2011, he and Rosebrooks submitted a paper on the advocacy of human rights at the church before the Civil War to a conference on New York State history sponsored by the New York Historical Association. He was an associate editor for two volumes of The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton (Columbia University Press, 1964 and 1969), writing commentaries on the documents that were published.

As of press time for this column, three meet-the-author events are being scheduled. The Book Launch takes place at Plymouth Church (75 Hicks Street/Brooklyn Heights) on Friday, Oct. 18 from 6-8 p.m. The Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St in Brooklyn Heights) hosts a Book Signing on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. And, in between, The North Star Underground Railroad Museum (1131 Mace Chasm Rd, Ausable Chasm, NY 12911-1704) will hold a book signing at a December date to be announced.

Author Frank Decker. Photo courtesy of History Press

Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom is now is available at local stores and online at It retails as an E-BOOK via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s I-bookstore, Google’s  E-bookstore, & Overdrive. This paperback edition is 160 pages; suggested retail price is $19.99.

 Top image from the Collection of Plymouth Church; bottom image from the author’s collection (photo via The History Press).

* * *

Lecture Explores History and Future Of Turkish-Israeli Relations

Relations between Israel and Turkey, and the future of the Turkish Jewish community, are the topics of a talk that Congregation Mount Sinai hosts next week.

Dr. Mark Meirowitz, Assistant Professor of Humanities at SUNY Maritime College (Bronx) will explore how relations between Turkey and Israel may likely develop in the future.  He will also examine the history, status and prospects of the Turkish Jewish community, whose unique experience has been challenged by recent events in Turkish society, such as protests in Gezi Park and their aftermath.

Meirowitz holds a doctorate in political science (he is a graduate of MTA and Yeshiva University), and also a business lawyer who has been in practice for over 30 years, a member of the Advisory Board of the American Turkish Council (ATC) and writes and lectures extensively on Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-Israel relations, US-Turkish relations, the Turkish Jewish community and related topics. He is writing a book on Turkish foreign policy. He taught at Istanbul Technical University, participated in the Global Leadership Forum at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul and served as moderator on panels at the Annual Conferences of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). He has served as an advisor to the presidents of the ATAA and the Federation of Turkish.

Meirowitz recently lectured on the subject of Turkey-Israel Relations at B'nai Zion in New York (co-presenter with the former Israel ambassador to Turkey), and has presented on this topic at Safra Synagogue (to the entire congregation during the main Shabbat services), Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan (where he is Mens’ Club president) and Congregation Brothers of Israel in Elberon, NJ. He has been interviewed on the subject of Turkey on ABC Radio's Religion on the Line, the Rita Cosby Show on WOR-AM Radio, on BronxNet Cable TV (where he is a regular commentator), on WVOX Radio in Westchester, on Turkish American Television in DC and on national Turkish television. He has also been interviewed in the national Turkish print press.

This lecture takes place on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. RSVP is necessary to Congregation Mount Sinai:  718-875-9124: or email [email protected]/ The suggested donation: $10/person. The synagogue is at 250 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights.

* * *

Kane Street Synagogue Launches Community Study Center, Music Series

Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill has launched the 2013-14 season of its pioneering “Open Beit Midrash,” a center for energetic Jewish study and creative spiritual conversation.   

Rabbi Sam Weintraub, with Joey Weisenberg, the Synagogue’s community educator, founded the Open Beit Midrash this month. Rabbi Weintraub notes, “We use the educational techniques of a traditional Yeshiva, but in a progressive, inclusive, Brownstone Brooklyn way; the Open Beit Midrash is for learners of all levels and backgrounds.”  

The Open Beit Midrash is held every Tuesday night to April 1, 2014. Each Beit Midrash evening begins with dinner (6:15), features various opportunities for Jewish learning (7 p.m.), and then concludes with a performance of new Jewish spiritual music by Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble (around 8:30).

The Open Beit Midrash is entirely drop-in. No advance registration is required.  Courses cover the gamut of Jewish ethics, classical texts and literature, philosophy, ritual and history.  Among the topics for this year: “What is Jewish Mysticism: Understanding the Kabbalah,” “Judaism, Social Justice, and Change in Israel Today,” “Marital Relations in the Biblical Text” and “Subversive Liturgy.”

The participating faculty includes some of the most dynamic and innovative scholars in Jewish and general religious studies, including Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, founder of Manhattan’s Mechon Hadar study center and repeatedly listed on Newsweek Magazine’s “Top 50 Rabbis in America,” Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, President of the Buddhist Council of New York and inter-religious scholar; and Orly Daboosh-Nitzan, an Israeli lawyer and educator who has founded two pluralistic Jewish study and social action centers in Tel Aviv.

All students are welcome—from complete novices those who have made a lifelong study of Jewish texts. Madrichim, or learning guides, will roam the Beit Midrash to welcome students and help them find an appropriate level of study.

A full schedule, in chart form, is available on the Synagogue’s website.

The cost is $15 per evening (includes dinner, study, music!), Yearlong subscriptions are also available for $180). For more information, or to register or volunteer, please write to [email protected], or call 718-875-1550.  The Kane St. Synagogue is at 236 Kane Street (between Court and Clinton, just east of Tompkins Place.

Rabbi Sam Weintraub often participates in synagogue and interfaith study programs. He is pictured at a late July, 2013 Iftar hosted at the Dawood Mosque. With Rabbi Weintraub (at left) are Imam Abdallah Allam, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of Congregation Mount Sinai and FDNY Chaplain, and Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate

Joey Weisenberg. Photo courtesy of the Kane Street Synagogue

* * *

Concert Series Honors Memory Of Slain Matthew Shepard

The Brooklyn Sounds Concert Series at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Choral Chameleon presents “Invocation and Dance” a free public concert on Oct. 14, 2013 commemorating the 15-year anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death.

This program, by turns poignant and joyful, will celebrate life and the beautiful diversity of our community while raising awareness about important social issues affecting Americans everywhere.

The program highlight is David Conte’s Elegy for Matthew (text by John Stirling Walker); and two Whitman settings by Conte and Michael Hennagin: Invocation and Dance and Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun. Artistic Director Vince Peterson tops off the program with his surprising setting of The Carpenters' timeless song, “Top of the World.”

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on 199 Carroll Street (Carroll Gardens). This program marks the first in a series of concerts at St. Paul’s.

Free tickets may be reserved at A limited number of tickets will also be available at the door

Union Church in Bay Ridge (7915 Ridge Blvd.) will also host Chameleonic and Choral Chameleon for an October 27 concert, according to the press kit. That concert time is 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27.

Choral Chameleon ensemble, with artistic director Vince Peterson (front, center). Photo by Kevin Truong.

Photo by Gina Von Hoof/Matthew Shepard Foundation

* * *

Works By Grace Church Artist On Exhibit at ‘Creations Art Show’

Two linocut prints of Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights parishioner and artist Karen Loew are part of the exhibit, “Creations Art Show: Grace: Exploring moments of GRACE in our lives.” This exhibit runs through Sunday, Oct. 6 at Our Savior of Atonement Lutheran Church at 178 Bennett Avenue (near West 189th Street in Northern Manhattan).

One of the prints, “Must Be Heaven,” is displayed under the category, Grace through Love and Loss. “This piece was conceived at a time of sadness and mourning for my Uncle Al Kocjan,” writes Loew in her description. “He died in April, 2009 at 94. He always loved the outdoors and for decades he was taking pontoon planes into Canada to go fishing. He would return with stories of the great fishing and always about the bears! I was compelled to create a work of art about what embodied his spirit. Viewers tell me it makes them smile. That is very heart-warming to me; since I believe he must be in heaven, and he, too, is smiling on this work. Now you know why my bear wears a halo!”

Loew’s second linocut, titled, “Ordination Day,” is presented in the category, “Grace through the Sacraments.” Loew explains, “When Sonia Waters was ordained to the priesthood at Grace Church, she asked me to create a piece of art for the cover of the program for the ordination ceremony. As I considered the imagery she requested and the importance of the occasion, I felt a better appreciation of the sacraments and the personal significance to my life, faith and salvation. I feel the Grace of God in my life whenever I look at this image I created.”

Moreover, the October issue of The Episcopal Journal features “Must Be Heaven" as one of the images in the online show “Of the Heart 2013,” by the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts.

In recent years, this work won the Purchase Prize Award) at the Salmagundi Club annual Black and White theme show.

Gallery hours at Our Saviour of the Atonement Church, through Friday, Oct. 4 are 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 5: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 6: 4-7 p.m.

* * *

Plymouth Church Welcomes John Scibilia As New Executive Administrator

John Scibilia, formerly Parish Manager of St. James’ Church (Episcopal) in Manhattan, has joined the Plymouth Church staff as executive administrator. He began his work at Plymouth on Oct. 1.

Sandra Deming, president of the Council of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, made the announcement on Monday.

The historic landmark Congregational Church with an active congregation and multiple community programs, including Plymouth Church School, Plymouth launched a search four months ago to find an administrator to meet the church’s growing needs. “We found several strong candidates with administrative backgrounds in non-profits,” says Deming. “However, John’s breadth of experience was exceptional for the very types of challenges we face here at Plymouth. The church and its leaders, as well as our local community, will appreciate his knowledge, experience and personal warmth. We all look forward to working with him as we continue to build a solid foundation for our congregation's growth and outreach.”

Scibilia will report to Interim Senior Minister Rev. Al Bunis.

As Parish Manager of St. James’s Church since 2006, John Scibilia served as a chief operating officer, responsible for church administration, finance, properties and special projects. Current President of the New York chapter of the National Association for Church Business Administration, he previously served as Executive Director of Lutheran Disaster Response of New York at Ground Zero from its launch in September 2001 until 2006, and Director of Schools for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America the preceding five years. His awards and recognition includes 2001 Educator of the Year Award from the Lutheran Schools Association, 2002 Extraordinary Leadership Award from the Council of Churches of the City of New York, and the 2003 Faith in the Fire Award from The Lutheran Church. He is a graduate of Gettysburg College, and received his master’s degree in non-public school administration from Fordham. Scibilia is also an avid Yankees fan and runner. He lives in Park Slope with his wife Jill Scibilia.

John Scibilia. Photo courtesy of Plymouth Church