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August 18, 2008



As early as 1905, Jewish citizens of Spartanburg gathered downtown in the back room of Abraham Levin’s shop to meet for morning prayers.

Connie Spigel Ferguson found in her attic a document written by her great uncle, Joseph Spigel. In it, he says, “This handful of people saw the need of a gathering place where they might worship God.” The founders had gathered in Levin’s shop to organize. They appointed the shop owner, Abraham Levin, as their first President.

Spigel stated, “After 2 years the founders decided to go forward with the building of a synagogue.”

In 1916, Joseph Spigel applied for a charter for the Congregation of B’nai Israel. A synagogue was built on Dean Street, just south of Main.

When I was growing up in Spartanburg, that synagogue was the center of Jewish life.

In 1955, Rabbi Max Stauber joined the congregation and served for 28 years as Rabbi and cantor. Rabbi Stauber’s children were my classmates and my friends. I went to school and played sports with high school members of Temple B’nai Israel. The influence of Rabbi Stauber and the congregation of the synagogue largely shaped my early attitudes about Jewish-Christian relationships.

When I returned to Spartanburg in 1980, Rabbi Stauber was retired. He continued as member of the congregation until his death in 1986.

When I became pastor of Morningside, I invited Rabbi Sam Cohon to participate in my installation service. Current Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz is a cherished friend and colleague.

Cultivating strong interfaith relationships has been a lifelong passion of mine. It is one way to make this a better community for all of us.

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine teaches New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. Surprisingly this remarkable New Testament professor and scholar is a Jewish woman. She grew up in Massachusetts, but received her Ph.D. at Duke, a southern Christian divinity school.

Levine is the author of The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. She begins the book with her story about growing up in a Jewish family in a predominately Catholic neighborhood.

“When I was a child, my ambition was to be pope. I remember watching the funeral of John XXIII and asking my mother, ‘Who was that man?’

I understood very little about him, but I did learn from the television coverage that he lived in Italy, had a very nice white suit and a great hat, and everyone seemed to love him. My mother responded, ‘That’s Pope John XXIII.’”

Like most Jewish parents, her mother was familiar with the pope’s efforts to save Jews during World War II.  Vatican II, the council convened by Pope John XXIII, declared that all Jews in all places and in all times were not responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Her mother added, “He was good for the Jews.”

Levine continued, “I immediately decided I would be pope: it meant lots of spaghetti, great accessories, and the job was good for the Jews.

‘I want to be pope,’ I announced to my mother.

‘You can’t,” she replied. ‘You’re not Italian.’”

That was the beginning of Dr. A-J Levine’s quest to understand the relationship between Jews and Christians. That quest has shaped her calling as a teacher who is intent on breaking down the walls of prejudice and misunderstanding. Dr. Levine is a welcome voice encouraging Jewish-Christian dialogue.

The Spartanburg Interfaith Connection has invited Dr. Levine to be the scholar-in-residence for our first annual interfaith emphasis on the weekend of August 29-31, 2008. The event has been made possible through a grant from The South Carolina Humanities Council and support from Interfaith Connection partners:

  • University of South Carolina Upstate
  • Congregation B’nai Israel
  • Morningside Baptist Church
  • Central United Methodist Church
  • First Presbyterian Church
  • Episcopal Church of the Advent
  • Wofford College
  • Converse College
  • Spartanburg Methodist College


The schedule for the weekend includes five opportunities to hear Dr. Levine. All events are presented at no charge and are open to the community.                           


Temple B’nai Israel

Friday, August 29 at 7:30 P.M. following the evening service

Jesus and Judaism:  Problems and Possibilities


Temple B’nai Israel

Saturday, August 30 at 12:45 P.M.

Seeing With Different Lenses


University of South Carolina—Upstate

Saturday, August 30 at 4:00 P.M.

Understanding Jesus the Jew: 

Enriching Christian Thought and Eliminating Anti-Semitism


Morningside Baptist Church

Sunday, August 31, at 9:45 A.M.

Why is a Jewish Woman Teaching the New Testament?


Central United Methodist Church

Sunday, August 31 at 11:00 A.M

Salvation in the Jewish and Christian Traditions


Commenting on the weekend, Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz said, “The psalmist noted, ‘How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to gather together.’ When we transcend our borders to learn from one another, we grow spiritually.”

Both the Torah and the Gospels teach, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is this love that moves us beyond tolerance to acceptance and to genuine friendship.

In the tradition of Rabbi Max Stauber, I know that healthy interfaith relationships begin with a desire to see the good in each other. We have much to learn from teachers like Dr. Levine and especially from our neighbors.

Please join us for these sessions. Let’s come together to make this an even better community for all of us, for our children, and for our grandchildren.


Kirk H. Neely

            © August 18, 2008



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