Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday Evening in Flatbush: Brooklyn's Fifth Annual Children of Abraham Peace Walk

We were a bit tardy yesterday for the 6 p.m. start of Brooklyn's Fifth Annual Children of Abraham Peace Walk, which got started at the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues, on whose steps we used to hang out as junior high students (next door was a tiny bookstore, The Bookworm, where we got out under-a-dollar paperbacks of Franny and Zooey, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and The Crying of Lot 49). Blame the B48 and B41 buses for the long trip from Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg.

We hadn't been inside the church since about 1968, when we attended one Sunday service as our 17-year-old self decided to explore the borough's various congregations before choosing atheism. Throughout the evening the crowd on the Children of Abraham Peace Walk ranged from about 150 to 200. We'd missed the words of welcome from Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, the much-admired Debbie Almontaser, Carol Horowitz and Rev. Tom Martinez, and found ourselves listening to Dr. Kurt Johnson, scientist and co-founder of the Coalition for One Voice, who discussed a recent meeting with the Dalai Lama and his call for the biggest movement in world history, to go beyond interfaith cooperation to achieve "the essence of religious experience, love."

The ActorCor Chorus, "New York's only choir of 100% actors" (maybe some are 95%?), sang prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and then the church's pastor gave a brief history of the church. Built in 1796, it is the successor to a church that was
built in 1702 and which in turn is successor to a church that was built in 1654 by special order of Gov. Peter Stuyvesant, back when Flatbush was farms and wilderness.

George Washington marched by just before the Battle of Brooklyn (he should have stopped in to pray and maybe would have done better). The cemetery in the back is one of the area's oldest. We also learned about the history of the Dutch Reformed Church in general and its successor church. Today the congregation are mostly of West Indian and West African descent and they stopped holding services in Dutch about a zillion years ago.

After acknowledging the help of Deputy Inspector Ralph Monteforte, Commanding Officer of the 70th Precinct, Detective Nasser and other members of the NYPD, the walk began after we lined up, water bottles and lime-colored flyers in hand, behind a large banner held up by half a dozen little kids. The banner had the Children of Abraham Peace Walk logo with three colorful doves, "peace" written on each in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin (English on the bottom of the banner).

We marched on the south side of Church Avenue west, past the great West Indian fruit stores and other emporiums and the Brighton line Q/B station (M/D in our youth). The last time we marched for peace by the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church was on October 15, 1969, for the Vietnam Moratorium.

As we walked, an evangelical truck slowly made its way following us. We assume it was an uninvited guest, since its calypso music was loudly proselytizing. At Temple Beth Emeth on the corner of Marlborough Road at the start of Prospect Park South's Victorian homes, all of us sat in the pews and listened to a talented singer and guitarist and heard a talk from Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger, a member of the congregation on the history of Beth Emeth.

The synagogue got started in 1911 and moved to the present location three years later; in the 1990s, after many of the area's Jewish residents had moved (along with us) to what Mr. Schweiger called "that new New York City suburb, South Florida," Beth Emeth merged with two other nearby Reform temples and now has about 100 families and a very long official name.

As in the church, a rabbi explained the basics of the congregation's mode of worship. Interestingly, the churchlike stained glass panels featuring Moses and David are not traditionally Jewish practice, but they did serve as backdrops to episodes of such TV shows as "Law and Order" and Richard Dreyfuss's short-lived "Education of Max Bedford."

Behind a police officer and the kids with the banner, we all marched south the one block of Marlborough Road (some purple-robed Buddhist monks waved to us from their house) and west on Albemarle Road to the Albanian American Islamic Center at the corner of Rugby Road.

Taking off our shoes and leaving them on the porch, we all went inside to the mosque, where we learned that the Albanian American Islamic Center started in 1963 and bought the house here in 1971. Naji Almontaser introduced an imam who discussed some of the basics of Muslim worship and the way in which Islam mixes faith with practice in dealing with others. He also discussed Islam as a global religion, with the Albanian Americans being of European descent while others are not only Arab but African, South Asian, East Asian and people all over the globe.

(Photo courtesy of Kate Anne's Flickr photostream of the Children of Abraham Walk)

Thanks were given to many people who worked on the march, including other clergy members of all three faiths, as well as Mohammad Ravi, director of the Council of People's Organizations (COPO), which has done such good work since 9/11 in the community here, especially with the businesses on what the New York Times called Brooklyn's "highway of tolerance," Coney Island Avenue.

After assembling on the porch for some delicious food and thanking everyone for the Peace Walk, we walked on Albemarle Road toward Coney Island Avenue, passing the home and office of our friendly neighborhood child psychiatrist from the mid-1960s, Dr. Abbott A. Lippman, M.D., F.A.C.P., whose faded sign is still up

on the office attached to the once-grand dwelling that housed his collections of African art and rare orchids. For some reason, the site of our adolescent encounters with Freud is in horrendous state of disrepair.

We know the rabbi talked about tikkun olam - "repairing the world" - but someone's fixing up 929 Albemarle Road would be a good start.

However, as we made out way to the F train, we were really glad we went on the night's Children of Abraham Peace Walk. Isn't life wonderful!


Kristen said...

I have been recommending a book called "My Stroke of Insight - a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor and also a TEDTalk Dr. Taylor gave on the TED dot com site. And you don't have to take my word for it - Dr. Taylor was named Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, the New York Times wrote about her and her book is a NYTimes Bestseller), and Oprah did not 4 interviews with her.

tomnmartinez said...

This was indeed a wonderful event. Thanks so much for your thoughtful coverage. I read the excerpt on the "Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn" blog (by Louise Crawford) and followed it here to the source.
Thanks again.