‘Musical retelling’ of Exodus story aims to bridge Jewish, African-American communities
A Chicago pastor who made headlines camping out on the roof of an abandoned motel for 345 days to raise money for a new community center is teaming up with pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs on an interfaith, musical concert about the Passover story.
“Everything we believe as Christians stems from the story of Passover,” Corey Brooks, founder and senior pastor at New Beginnings Church of Chicago and founder and CEO of Project H.O.O.D. Communities Development Corporation, told JNS.
The April 2 event, scheduled just a few days before Passover at the nondenominational New Beginnings Church on Chicago’s South Side, will present an African-American Christian and Jewish retelling of the Passover story in a musical concert, according to Brooks.
Peggy Shapiro, director of special projects for StandWithUs Midwest, told JNS that the event will feature the Jewish Chicago choir Kol Zimrah singing alongside the choir of Brooks’ church, New Beginnings Church Praise Team.
“They will sing an assortment of musical genres such as gospel, show tunes and hip-hop,” she said.
The event will feature more than half a dozen others, including a Grammy Award winner, cantors, a rabbi and other pastors. Several Chicago-area synagogues and other Jewish organizations are partnering with the event.
‘Drawing inspiration from the story of Moses’
Arnold Saltzman, cantor emeritus at the Washington, D.C. Conservative synagogue Adas Israel Congregation and rabbi emeritus at three Maryland congregations, told JNS that Passover is a “remarkable tradition and spiritual experience,” and its musical traditions reflect the 100 countries in which Jews have celebrated the holiday throughout history.
“Bringing together the African-American and Jewish communities through music has deep meanings for all involved,” he said. “What greater emotions could there be than the traditions of the music of the African-American experience and the Jewish experience expressed in song.”
Both minority communities have “truly triumphed over suffering, and sharing this experience through food, liturgy, poetry and music resonates in the human heart,” said Saltzman.
Shapiro added that an interfaith event like this, which is not intended as a theological statement, does not risk diluting the Jewish nature of Passover.
“This is not a seder,” she said. “This event is meant to tell the story of the extraordinary journey from slavery to freedom, which came before the advent of Christianity. Both the Jewish and African-American communities share many things in common, one of which is drawing inspiration from the story of Moses.”
Shapiro met Brooks—an “inspirational leader,” she said—a year into the pandemic. She offered to help in the construction of the new community center, and they struck up a friendship.
Brooks said Shapiro brought diapers and baby formula to his nonprofit, and she helped him plan an event offering much-needed help for single parents.
Since then, Brooks has worked with StandWithUs on events promoting Holocaust education in his community, and he has helped support the free StandWithUs summer camp program.
Sharing the Exodus story through song shows there is more that unites Jews and African-Americans than there is that divides them, according to Shapiro.
“I think this event is appropriate for everybody,” she said. “They will leave inspired and energized, which is something we could all use more of right now.”
Brooks, who expects between 750 and 1,000 people to attend the public event, told JNS that it’s “good to have partnerships with the Jewish nation.”