Amy Kelly, representing the Jewish Affinity Group of Piedmont, chats with Piedmont Community Church members Suzie Skugstad and Lisa Fuller ahead of the event.

Unity, Reflections Shared in Shabbat Dinner at Piedmont Community Church 

By Eric Behrens – Special to the ‘Piedmont Post

(January 27, 2023) A profound and moving interfaith gathering took place in Guild Hall at Piedmont Community Church last Friday. Initiated by Amy Kelly, representing the Jewish Affinity Group of Piedmont, and enthusiastically embraced by Senior Pastor Steve Schibsted, this Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner of Jews and Christians honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as a day to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust – the date in 1945 that the monstrous Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.

This joint interfaith event was a lively one, attended by more than 75 participants, consisting of approximately equal numbers of people of Jewish and Christian faith. The meal was served potluck, along with a hearty soup prepared by members of the church. The room was filled with conversations while guitarist and singer Isaac Zones provided beautiful music, playing classic songs such as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The Friday meal ushering in the Jewish Day of Rest after sunset began with the lighting of the candles, a prayer beautifully chanted in Hebrew by 13-year-old Aaron Bennett and a prayer over the braided bread known as challah. The evening was an emotional one as speakers shared the pain of losing relatives and their fear that the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi Holocaust are fading with the passage of time. It was also an evening of hope as many of the Jewish participants thanked the church for making them feel “welcomed and not othered”.

Among the City of Piedmont dignitaries in attendance were Mayor Jen Cavanaugh and recently elected Board of Education member Ruchi Medhekar. Mayor Cavanaugh commented that she was thrilled to be there. “This joint interfaith event demonstrates that we are stronger together,” she said. 

Sharon Petrowsky spoke about her grandmother Eva Libitzky, an Auschwitz survivor, and generously provided copies of her grandmother’s book Out on a Ledge at each table. Ilana Bennett shared a portion of her son Aaron’s Bar Mitzvah speech which was inspired by his visit to the Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem. There he learned of a 13-year-old Czech boy also named Aaron who was killed by the Nazis in 1942. In a touching gesture, Aaron’s speech said he was sharing his Bar Mitzvah with the deceased Aaron, “a boy just like me who could not have his own Bar Mitzvah” honoring his “Bar Mitzvah twin” as a hero.

Pastor Schibsted commented that the participants were so appreciative. “I’m pretty sure that what happened here tonight made God smile,” he said.

Children gather around a table filled with coloring pages depicting Jewish language and culture.
Dressed in a princess costume, four-year-old Olivia Castro waits for the event to begin with mom, Sharon Petrowsky.
Aaron Bennett, 13, chants a prayer in Hebrew before Shabbat.
Piedmont Mayor Jen Cavenaugh, center, drops by to support the event with co-hosts Amy Kelly, left, and Piedmont Church Senior Pastor Steve Schibsted.
The Piedmont Church Courtyard offers a place for children to play after dinner.
Singer Isaac Zones entertains guests as they line up for dinner.
Ilana Bennett reads a reflection of the Holocaust written by her son, Aaron.
Rachel Leonard shares a story revealing a Jewish tradition, naming her children after relatives who survived the Holocaust.