By Chris Mellides
A congregation of 300 mixed-faith gatherers filled the presentation hall of the Huntington Jewish Center Sunday for the 44th Annual Huntington Community Thanksgiving Service.
Hosted by the center, the service was meant to instill a sense of community between interfaith individuals united under the belief of the same higher power, according to the event’s organizers.
Canned food was accepted by the Huntington Community Food Council, and a dessert reception sponsored by the Sisterhood of the Huntington Jewish Center was held in the building’s Kiddush Lounge at the conclusion of the night’s event.
Participating in the service were 12 houses of worship, with various clergy members taking their part in leading the Huntington religious community in prayer, thoughtful meditation and musical scores—a feature coordinated by Cantor Israel Gordan.
Rev. Mark Bigelow of the Congregational Church of Huntington was among the clergy who helped organize the Thanksgiving service.
“Thanksgiving is our real American national holiday that all people regardless of their religion can participate together in,” Bigelow said. “It celebrates also the diversity of our country from the very beginning.”
He added, “That’s the richness of Thanksgiving—it’s people gathering together who come from different backgrounds.”
At the beginning of the event, Rabbi Neil Kurshan led with an invocation followed with a message centered around togetherness amongst religious communities in spite of the turmoil following the Paris terrorist attacks.
The Muslim call to ritual prayer, referred to as an Azan, was given by Mustafa Akkaya of the Turkish Cultural Center Long Island, followed by the singing of “We Gather Together” by the Community Interfaith Choir.
Rev. Gia Hall of the West Hills Methodist Church read a psalm from the Christian Bible and gave thanks to all those who attended, before the St. Patrick’s Church choir sung a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
“This is the richest musical service we’ve had thanks to the cantor here at the synagogue, he really helped bring people together,” said Bigelow. “And Reverend JoAnn Barrett brings her group and helps to include all of the other different groups here as well.”
Barrett spoke on behalf of the Gathering of Light Fellowship and emphasized that this yearly holiday service is hinged on diversity and whatever congregation is hosting the annual event does the job of helping to bring people of different faiths together.
“Huntington is a very diverse community, but we also believe that we have to do the work at home and if we’re not doing it here then it’s not going to change in the world,” Barrett said. “By us coming together and being the power of example for the rest of the world, we can change the world.”
“We start with the clergy, then we add to the choir, then we add the different congregations and the word gets out,” she added.
The service went on to include additional readings of religious scripture, musical performances, as well as a detailed sermon relaying the history of the Thanksgiving holiday titled “Thanksgiving Lessons.” It was read by Duncan Burns, reverend of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Huntington.
Huntington resident Paul Cohen was one of many in attendance who enjoyed the service, and particularly liked the musical numbers.
Asked to describe his experience and what he felt religion’s role was on the world stage, Cohen grew emotional.
“It’s good to see everybody come together,” he said. “We shouldn’t let the thoughts of irrational people make us do irrational things.”