Temple Shalom for the Arts has a little part of its soul in Los Angeles gospel, when the independent congregation will host the pre-Passover Shared Heritage of Freedom service at the Wilshire Theatre on April 15.
"There was a real need to get the Jewish and African American communities together," said temple founder Rabbi David Baron, who will welcome Bishop Charles Blake of West Angeles Church of God in Christ and his church's 70-voice choir for a joint Jewish/African American-themed Shabbat service, with both gospel and Hebrew tunes.
Baron's art-focused congregation has hosted interfaith gospel choirs around the High Holidays for the past 13 years, where the emphasis is a common one.
"The shared heritage of freedom ... being denied liberty. The early founders of the NAACP were Jews," said Baron, referring to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise being a founder in 1909 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "There's a lot more that unites than divides us, to experience one another's tradition."
Baron previously had annual black/Jewish Shabbat services with a choir from the Los Angeles Urban League, but several years ago began a friendship with Blake. "The best thing you can do to fight anti-Semitism is to invite a gentile to your Passover seder," said Baron, a 53-year-old Conservative-trained rabbi who ran synagogues in New Jersey and Miami before joining the Verdugo Hills Jewish Center in Sunland-Tujunga.
That was Baron's last denomination-based shul setting prior to creating the independent, 2,000-member Temple Shalom for the Arts, which has no building and holds services at Wilshire Theater. The congregation is known for innovations such as a televised Yom Kippur service on PAX TV and for a prayer book created around the paintings by Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall. Nonetheless, one member of Baron's artsy congregants, jazz musician Herb Alpert, expressed some concern about the gospel/Hebrew mix being so emotionally elastic, as gospel music is known to be.
Baron said he told Alpert, "To me that's what the Chasidic movement did; it approached God through music, dance, prayer. We've tried to do that."
The service will take place April 15 at 8 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.
For more information, call (310) 444-7500 or visit www.templeshalomforthearts.com.