Jews and Christians working together! The members of Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship meet once a month to rub shoulders with one another, have lunch, build friendships between faith groups and offer support and a helping hand to each other when needed. I witnessed this opportunity on June 29 right here in our hometown.

Dale Spencer, president of Temple Emanuel, the Jewish Synagogue, stated that his congregation has gotten smaller and older over the last 100 years. The youth have grown and moved away and they have very few in their congregation who can take care of some of the maintenance around their synagogue, add to that their sprinkler system broke and the yard got away from them. Dale and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have become friends over the past couple of years at PVIF, and they extended a helping hand if they wanted it. He said yes and so after the roof had been replaced on the synagogue just the prior week, friends were there willing to help rake, dig, prune and haul away overgrown brush and trees. Two trailers and two truck beds were filled with garbage bags and debris. The front yard was rototilled and raked smooth in preparation for sod. Members of the synagogue brought snacks and bottled water for all those who were there assisting with the project. Prior to the project on Saturday, Chris King and Jordan Wilson, managers of Pebble Creek Ski Area, showed up and did some tree trimming on the property. NeighborWorks Pocatello donated its tool trailer filled with rakes, shovels, brooms, clippers, wheelbarrows, a lawn mower, a rototiller and saws to help make the job easier.

Dale met with the group of volunteers and expressed his gratitude and the coming together as different faith groups to help one another. He talked about community and about the strong interfaith connections and friendships here. Dale taught everyone a bit about his faith tradition, clothing, scripture and the beautiful stained-glass windows that are in their building. He showed everyone some of his kippahs (head coverings) and his prayer shawl, and showed us the delicate and sacred texts of the Torah in Hebrew.

Dave Goodman and Dr. Sean Anderson are members of the synagogue, and they were there to offer knowledge and answer questions about their faith. Dave was amazed at the number of people who came to help with the project. He said it was heartwarming and wonderful, and he was appreciative of the support. Dr. Anderson arrived at the synagogue that morning and wondered, “where did all these Jews come from.” Mary Reichman, another member of the synagogue, said that they will be having an anniversary next year and so plans and preparations need to begin now so that they are ready. She is working with Camille from Gypsy Gardens Landscape Design, who has volunteered to help the synagogue in mapping out the landscape design, and she has suggested Burning Bushes and Canadian Roses to beautify the area without requiring a large amount of maintenance. Their plans include planting sod, weed barrier, rocks and plants, and even a ramp to assist the elderly and those in wheelchairs. Scott Strong was at the synagogue repairing the pews that had been damaged by the leaky roof and collapsed ceiling from last winter and the spring.

RaNae and Bill McKee were holding a family reunion with their children on Saturday. They wanted to do a service project as part of the reunion, and this opportunity was the perfect one. They brought 19 of their family members, and even the smallest of their grandchildren grabbed a rake and began to work. Members of the Alameda and East stakes, Area Public Affairs and full-time missionaries assisted in the project. Doug Alley, Alameda Stake president, was grateful for the volunteers who showed up and stated it was a wonderful experience to make new friends. Jerry Leffler stated in church the following Sunday, what a choice experience it was to meet new friends and to serve them. He expressed that there is much more that needs to be done, and he challenged others the next time this opportunity arrives to please take advantage of it. Marilyn Andersen and Gordon Crystal stated that it was wonderful to come together as a community and to learn things about the Jewish faith. They were glad that they were invited to participate and to meet their neighbors.

Dale stated that work days like Saturday show us what community means; it provides the opportunity to get know each other beyond labels. Seeing each other as people builds understanding and compassion for the common struggles everyone faces, either as a member of a community of faith and for those of us in leadership positions. When we see each other as people, not just “them or us” we can keep those voices that try to divide our community, state and nation in balance. Saturday did more than just build relationships; it was a physical beautification of our community. Using the resources of NeighborWorks Pocatello and the labor of so many people, including volunteers from Pebble Creek Ski Area, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Temple Emanuel.

Keeping our city beautiful helps us maintain civic pride. Additionally, it allowed me as the part of the Temple Leadership the opportunity to talk about Judaism, Jewish history in Pocatello and our almost 60-year-old building. I spoke about some of the common symbols of our faith, their origins and what they mean in contemporary society. While working with several of the missionaries that were there, I tried to answer questions and provide perspective on what it means to be part of a small congregation and how much the help of so many others impacts our group.

It is truly a blessing to witness good things happening in our community and watching people of different faiths and cultures coming together to help one another.

Sherri Matson is a member of the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship.