What’s a rabbi doing on a show called ‘Church Rescue’?
by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D.
On Monday, December 23, the final episodes of a series called Church Rescue will air on NatGeoTV. One of the episodes is called “Shalom Improvement.” It tells the story of three Christian consultants who lend a hand to my shul, the Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach on the Venice Beach boardwalk, and help me become a better rabbi. The three men call themselves the Church Hoppers and they’ve never been to a synagogue before they met me. What’s an Orthodox Jewish rabbi doing on a show called Church Rescue with a bunch of Christian Church Hoppers? Good question.
Two strong motivating factors guided the decision to appear on Church Rescue. The first echoes the words of the Sages of the Mishnah 2000 years ago: “Who is wise? One who learns from all people.”
The Church Hoppers are experts in running ministries and churches. Sure, we call our house of worship a shul not a church, but the idea is the same. It is a communal gathering of individuals united by common beliefs to pray and grow spiritually together. The wisdom and experience the Church Hoppers brought to our shul was extremely valuable. A fresh set of eyes, unbiased by the usual synagogue expectations can always be helpful. When those eyes are attached to an expert in building a vibrant house of worship, the benefits are even greater.
Throughout the filming experience, I was impressed by my new friends. I dubbed them the Shteible Hoppers and feel fortunate to have made three friends for life. I thank Doc, Rev Kev, and Gladamere for their advice, friendship, and their help. Learning from experts about one’s craft is always a good ideas. Each of my new friends taught me something about myself and about running a shul. They also gave us a little boost with some of their creativity and ingenuity. They made something amazing happen for us at the close of the week they spent with us. You’ll have to watch the show to see what I am talking about. It was incredible. That is one reason the Church Hoppers were invited to our shul.
I think the second reason is even more important. Too often, Orthodox Judaism is portrayed negatively in the media. My friend, Allison Josephs works very hard to show another side of Orthodox Judaism at Jew in the City. Her mission is to show the world an Orthodox Judaism that is engaged with the world and making a positive difference in society. It’s a valiant effort and one that is sorely needed.
Church Rescue presented an opportunity for me to help this effort and show a side of Orthodox Judaism that is rarely seen by the outside world.
At Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach, we practice and preach a passionate and compassionate version of Orthodox Judaism. We are inclusive. We are cool. We are fun. I want people to know and see how we serve God on Venice Beach.
My personal and professional mission is to provide positive religious experiences to the maximum number of people possible. Showing the world what we do and how we do it on NatGeoTV was an obvious way to present our message to more people. We want everyone to know about our brand of our religion. The Pacific Jewish Center experience is broad enough for just about anyone to find inspiration. It’s the new wave of Orthodox Judaism.
Church Rescue gave us the opportunity to put Orthodox Judaism in the living rooms of people we would otherwise have no way of reaching. We want people to see religion in a positive light. We would love it if other synagogues followed our lead, all the way from the edge, maybe even the fringe, of civilization in Venice Beach and broaden the spectrum of who participates in their services and communities.
Judaism has always tried to live up to lofty ideals and be a “light unto the nations.” Pacific Jewish Center is a bright lighthouse on the west coast. We are a strong beacon of light in the night. We cast our light as far as the darkness will take us. Church Rescue takes our light further than we could have done on our own. But now, the rest is up to us.
Watch (or DVR) Church Rescue on NatGeoTV, Monday December 23, 2 PM or 5 PM (check your TV provider’s listings).
Photos via T Group Productions Tags: Allison Josephs, Christian Church Hoppers, Church Rescue, Hollywood, Jew in the City, Judaism, NatGeo TV, Pacific Jewish Center, Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, Television, The Shul on the Beach, Venice Beach