Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg, senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, who died Oct. 15, was a remarkable man. But the 30 years of his rabbinate were so full, so fruitful -- from his engagement in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to his commitment to social justice to his compassionate care of his congregation -- that his intense involvement in reconciliation among the communities of faith may have been overlooked.
In October 1982 Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, the Church of the Annunciation (Roman Catholic), Saint Luke's United Methodist Church and the Washington Hebrew Congregation -- all neighbors near the intersection of Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues in Northwest Washington and all already active in interfaith efforts -- began a more formal association.
Their first joint endeavor was a lecture series on their respective faiths. Rabbi Weinberg gave the inaugural talk. In the years to come, the congregations shared presentations on the musical heritage of each tradition; lectures on Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism; and forums on such issues as religion in American life.
Shared worship services were another part of the interfaith effort. Members of the four congregations were invited to specific Friday or Sunday worship services at which the host congregation's liturgy was explained and congregants could meet.
In 1986 Rabbi Weinberg succeeded Rabbi Joshua Haberman as senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, and members of the surrounding faith communities were invited to his installation.
As senior rabbi, Rabbi Weinberg lent his support to the annual community Thanksgiving Day dinner (he frequently came to offer a blessing and to greet those attending); spoke on the religious and social milieu of the New Testament at the Church of the Annunciation; co-chaired a discussion of religious symbolism with the Rev. Bruce Jenneker of Saint Alban's; welcomed members of Saint Alban's, Annunciation and Saint Luke's (among other congregations) to an interfaith Seder and to discussions and lectures at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Topics included Christian rescuers in the Holocaust, Jewish perceptions of Jesus and New Testament interpretation.
In 1990 Rabbi Weinberg invited the neighboring churches and other Christian communities to join with the Washington Hebrew Congregation in its annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Out of this generous gesture developed an annual service marking Kristallnacht, the "night of the broken glass" in 1938 that signaled the beginning of the Holocaust. The service is composed of a Jewish-Christian prayer and music in which the theme is memory, forgiveness and hope -- the elements of reconciliation.
Rabbi Weinberg's achievements were many, and the sense of loss that his death brought was wide and great. It is exceeded only by gratitude for a life that was indeed "a channel of God's peace."
-- Mary Ellen McMillen
is a member of the Interreligious Council.