Beth Tfiloh & Liberty Grace Church: Building Bridges Across Baltimore

Beth Tfiloh's Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and Liberty Grace Church of God's Reverend Dr. Terris King wrote this response to The Baltimore Sun’s recent editorial, “Better to have a few rats than to be one."
The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board published “Better to have a few rats than to be one” last week, in response to President Trump’s tweets about Baltimore City. For a moment, their response provided our city with some measure of comfort. However, the more difficult, time consuming and necessary response requires us to put in real work. Tweets and sound bites make for good headlines but doing the real work to improve living conditions in one Baltimore neighborhood better is far more difficult – and far longer lasting.

Improving Baltimore one neighborhood at a time by combatting the growing violence, racism and tribalism surrounding us is precisely what we two religious leaders have been doing for more than two years. We are a couple of the most unpredictable friends you could find – the senior pastor of Ashburton’s Liberty Grace Church of God and the senior rabbi of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation. And yet, we have united our congregations and partnered with local businesses and organizations to help a city worthy of assistance.

In some ways, Ashburton and Pikesville are in two different worlds. But the reality is, we are next-door neighbors. Maryland’s recently maligned seventh district reminds us that there are no barriers separating Baltimore City and Baltimore County; the only barriers are the ones we establish in our hearts. We have discovered that getting to know each other not only brings us closer, but helps us to learn from each other, to better understand each other’s lived experiences, and even to better understand ourselves. This is not about government handouts, political victories or leaders looking to make a name for themselves. This is about getting to know each other one by one by one. And after a while, it starts to add up.

Back in November of 2018, Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Liberty Grace Church members gathered to celebrate Unity Day, where we shared the impact of our Safety, Health, and Education (S.H.E.) initiative. This program was launched one year earlier, made possible through Liberty Grace’s affiliation with Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

Since that event, S.H.E. has fed more than 5,000 West Baltimore residents a year. Volunteers from both Liberty Grace and Beth Tfiloh distribute fresh produce provided by the Maryland Food Bank at our monthly food giveaway. The food giveaway has since expanded into a health education ministry, where volunteers prepare healthy recipes in our outdoor kitchen, donated by BG&E, and provide those recipes to recipients so they can prepare them at home. Our volunteers also teach community members how to grow their own produce in our urban garden, underwritten by Johns Hopkins University.

We are also working together to improve the conditions of Nathan-Pitts Ashburton Elementary and Middle School. Through S.H.E., we refurbished the school’s bathrooms and painted positive, affirming murals on the wall. We have hosted talent shows and festivals, building relationships among school families to strengthen the school community and help reduce violence. Our volunteers packed 125 Brain Food Packages for Nathan Pitts Elementary students, helping them fuel up for their standardized tests. This fall, Liberty Grace and Beth Tfiloh will launch our Pen Pal Club between Nathan Pitts and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School students, and a Book Worms club, where BT volunteers will read to Nathan Pitts students.

Most recently, Wheelabrator, a local recycling company, employed four Liberty Grace members to keep our neighborhood clean. S.H.E. is achieving a great deal and this interfaith model is growing with external resources.

On Saturday, July 27th, while some chose to criticize and taunt Baltimore on social media, Liberty Grace and Beth Tfiloh members reunited once more for Breaking Bread and Building Bridges. That Saturday, our two congregations came together to display brotherly love and unity. We talked about further actions we can take together to improve Baltimore while sharing the foods of both cultures and forging friendships.

Working together to improve the education and health of Baltimore children and families is the only way we will improve the conditions of our city. Let's tweet less and work more to build bridges and make Baltimore better.

We must reject the new norm that everything important must fit into a tweet. In fact, maybe we should reject surface levels responses and focus on positive effort. Just maybe all us in and around our city should respond by committing ourselves to do more to improve Baltimore.

Dr. Terris King, Senior Pastor, Liberty Grace Church of God (Ashburton)
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, Senior Rabbi, Beth Tfiloh Congregation (Pikesville)
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Beth Tfiloh Congregation
Roz & Marvin H. Weiner Family Campus | 3300 Old Court Road, Baltimore, MD 21208 | 410-486-1900 | mail@bethtfiloh.com
Celebrating the Joy of Judaism. Embracing all Jews.
One of the leading Modern Orthodox synagogues in America, with a diverse membership, and an extensive offering of religious services, classes and year-round Jewish programming for all ages.