Interfaith service in Great Neck encourages unity

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Leaders from seven different Long Island religious affiliations came together in a spirit of unity at a pre-Thanksgiving interfaith service Friday evening at Temple Emanuel in Great Neck that was attended by more than 150 area residents. 

Through spirited readings and music, a prayer of mourning for loved ones lost and moments of laughter, the crowd of about 150 people heard a universal message of peace and unity after a divisive presidential election year, coinciding with a holiday that symbolizes gratitude and inclusion.

“We come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different expressions of religiosity and yet we’re one as Americans, all of us,” said Rabbi Robert Widom of Temple Emanuel, who presided over the service. “We ought to be grateful for the multiplicity of cultures and traditions that we have in this country” and “we ought not be afraid of difference and never confuse unity with conformity.” 

The service included representatives from the Long Island Muslim Society, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church of Great Neck, the Chinese Center of Long Island, the Tzu Chi Foundation and the Saint Paul A.M.E. Zion Church of Great Neck, as well as state Assemblyman-elect Anthony D’Urso. 

It featured musical performances ranging from a classical flute solo to a hit song by the pop star Sia and the ballad “Rise Up,” both sung by Tahseen Rabbi of the Long Island Muslim Society. 

A candle blessing to signify bringing light into the world was led by Naju Hossain of the Long Island Muslim Society, an Islamic center in East Meadow.

“We must recognize that there is but one race, the human race,” said Hussain Ahmad, the vice president-elect of the society.

In her opening prayer, the Rev. Natalie Fenimore of Manhasset’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock invoked the spirits of compassion, respect and deep humility to overcome division, anxiety, fear and hate.  

Bertha del Carpio, who represented St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church and oversees homeless programs in  Great Neck, read a prayer that said everyone must open their eyes to the wrongs they inflict upon others. 

Joe Chang of the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist group whose mission is to relieve the suffering of those in need and create a better world for all, reminded the audience that “many nations around the world are embroiled in conflict, which has led to the displacement of millions who have had to flee their homelands.” 

Edward Chung, co-chairman of the Chinese Center of Long Island, shared the teachings of Confucius to “forsake darkness” and “do God’s work to improve the human condition.” 

The night ended with the entire music ensemble on the altar and the audience rising to sing “America the Beautiful.” 

Lisa Huang, a member of the Chinese Center of Long Island who attended the event, said she most enjoyed the musical performances by Wen Ling Cheng, another Chinese Center member, and the performance of the gospel hymn “God Is” by the Saint Albans Presbyterian Men’s Ensemble and the Saint Paul A.M.E. Zion Church Choir, which led the room clapping in unison.

While leaving Temple Emanuel, a New Hyde Park resident, Ann Karp, praised the evening, calling it “a wonderful event” and “a gorgeous service every year.”

By Grace McQuade

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