Chapel Hill: Community

Congregation, columnist toremember Rabbi Friedman

Judea Reform will honor Rabbi John Friedman’s 35 years of service Friday and Saturday.
Judea Reform will honor Rabbi John Friedman’s 35 years of service Friday and Saturday.

On Friday and Saturday, Judea Reform Congregation will celebrate Rabbi John Friedman’s 35 years as rabbi at the Durham synagogue and as a leader in the Durham faith community.

The rabbi, who is retiring, has had a wide open ministry over the years and has worked with leaders from across the religious spectrum, particularly in organizations such as Durham Congregations in Action.

To honor Friedman, his congregation is holding a special shabbat service at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with a special lecture by Richard Sarason, professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The rabbi’s family members will participate in the service.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, a service to which the larger community is invited, will include participation by the rabbi’s children, Abigail and Josh, who will read in Hebrew from the Torah. The portion that morning will be Korach (Numbers) 16:20-35.

A festive community luncheon will follow, during which several of the rabbi’s colleagues will speak, including such Durham champions of justice as Bishop Elroy Lewis of Fisher Memorial United Holy Church, the Rev. Joe Harvard, retired, of First Presbyterian and the Rev. Haywood Holderness, also retired, of Westminster Presbyterian.

Rep. David Price will attend the Saturday event and will make a special presentation.

Over the years, a noteworthy project of the rabbi was to expose teens in the Sunday School at the synagogue to Christian worship by going with them to visit churches in the city. This gave teens from both faiths an opportunity to ask questions and to compare notes on how things are done in their different worship venues and traditions.

Another way Friedman reached out was to invite Christian ministers and leaders to a yearly event at the synagogue to hear a distinguished speaker and to share in a luncheon. This brought Christians into the synagogue to see andlearn. After all, Jews and Christians share the same sacred writings of what is called the Old Testament by Christians and the Hebrew Scripture by Jews.

And, of course, that rather obvious reason: Jesus was a Jew and the Christian church has been significantly influenced by Jewish tradition.

A personal note here:

Once, in conversation with Rabbi Friedman, I referred to Jesus as a “rabbi of the first century,” to which he immediately objected. “He was no rabbi,” he said.

For some folks, those might have been fighting words, but not for me and John Friedman.

He was the rabbi who taught me much of what I know about Judaism by answering my questions, by explaining the significance of traditions in Jewish worship, by once suggesting I should read “The Red Tent” and by being anything but “a cliche rabbi.” (You know, the ones who come across in some literary works as real “know-it-alls” who have to be careful not to trip over their beards!)

My most memorable experience with Rabbi Friedman came one day when I was visiting him in his office at the synagogue for a story I was writing. I don’t recall the exact conversation, but I remember he asked me if there were anything else he could do for me.

I said, “Yes, you can read to me from the Torah.”

He led me into the sanctuary. I will always remember the careful and respectful manner in which he found the place and then read the sacred words in Hebrew. How beautiful were his voice and those words, and what a spiritual high it was for me.

Thanks, John, you have been a rabbi to me.

Rabbi Friedman’s official retirement date is June 30 and his successor, Rabbi Larry Bach, will begin his tenure July 1 at the synagogue, located at 1933 W. Cornwallis Road.

Sitting meditation

The aim of practicing zazen (simply sitting in Zen meditation) is the ending of suffering and the opening to joy and freedom to life as it is.

Practitioners of color are invited to join the Chapel Hill Zen Center’s weekly People of Color Zazen Group every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. on a regular or drop-in basis.

As always, the Zen Center offers meditation instruction and orientation to newcomers at 9 a.m. Sunday and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the center, 5322 N.C. 86 near Exit 266.

‘Cotton Patch Gospel’

“Cotton Patch Gospel” is the telling of the Christian Gospel with Southern charm and great folk music.

On Thursday, the youth choir at University United Methodist Church will perform this musical at 7:30 p.m. at UNC's Forest Theatre.

Based on Clarence Jordan’s version of the Gospels of Matthew and John, the musical presents the gospel with a Southern accent, said Tim Baker, director of music at the church. “Clarence Jordan was an outstanding humanitarian and a Southern gentleman,” he said.

Tom Key and Russell Treyz wrote the play based on Jordan's book and added music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin just before his death in 1981.

Forty-five youths in grades 6-12 make up the cast and crew. The production will be accompanied by a four-piece bluegrass band.

The outdoor theater is a stone amphitheater nestled among towering trees on Country Club Road. Admission is free.

‘Shining Star’

First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill will host Vacation Bible School from 6 to 8 p.m. next week, June 23-26. The theme is “Shining Star: See the Light in Me.” All ages are welcome. The church is located at 106 N. Roberson St.

Contact Flo Johnston at or call 910-361-4135.