Synagogue, Catholic school join forces...

Synagogue, Catholic school join forces...

Article Courtesy of the Sun Sailor

Benilde-St. Margaret's School does not own the rights to the content in this article: Copyright © 2018 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. With prior written consent from the Sun Sailor, we are repurposing the article written by St. Louis Park Sun Sailor Community Editor, Seth Rowe

Standing side by side for decades, a St. Louis Park synagogue and a Catholic school have long shared common ground. Now, they will share a common sound with a festival featuring the Gin Blossoms and The Big Wu.

Although Beth El Synagogue and Benilde-St. Margaret’s have interacted to learn from each other, leaders at the two institutions sense divides around them.

“We’ve been seeing a divisiveness on the micro and macro level in the community, whether that’s just writ large here in Minnesota or on the national level,” said Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue.

“Daily,” added Adam Ehrmantraut, president of Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

“Part of that divisiveness, when we put our heads together, focuses on people not knowing how to be good neighbors,” Olitzky said. “And since we’re neighbors and we believe we’re good neighbors, certainly to each other and beyond, we thought that this would be an opportunity for us to role model for the greater community and help put St. Louis Park on a map in a different way than it has been in the past.”

They decided to call their festival Sunday, June 17, the Common Sound Music Festival. They worked together and with Sue McLean & Associates – the company known for putting on the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis – to line up bands.

The two headliners for the festival pull in their own cohorts of followers, Olitzky said.

“Our goal was really to appeal to the early 30s to mid 50s of that initial demographic and create a little bit of a vibe of nostalgia,” Olitzky said.

The bluegrass and Americana band The Common Ground Company reached out to organizers when they learned of the festival name. The band had a sound that organizers had been seeking and helped drive the point about finding common ground in further, Olitzky said.

Amanda and Berek Awend will open the festival at 4 p.m. as well as provide children’s engagement as part of their set. Amanda Awend is the director of young families engagement at Beth El Synagogue.

“The two of them have a musical career on their own, so it just happens to work out for us that way,” Olitzky said.

Combined, the bands provide a balance of rock, jam band, folk and Americana-style music, he said.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s will host the parking, which is included with admission, while the Beth El Synagogue parking lot will host the show. Bicycle check-in and racks along with Uber and Lyft drop-off areas will be available.

“We imagine a lot of people will be coming from the surrounding neighborhoods and will not want to drive over,” Olitzky said.

Organizers set a capacity limit of 1,500 to 2,000 people for the first year, although they may consider growing the festival in the future.

“One of the things I think is special about the community in Minnesota is we often come out in droves to support causes we believe in, and also everybody here loves a good music festival,” Olitzky said.

Food vendors slated to serve festival-goers include Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, which will provide a meal to the nonprofit Loaves and Fishes for every meal sold at the festival; Que Tal Street Eats, featuring Salvadorian food; and Trio Plant-based, which serves vegan food. A Kona Ice truck will offer Hawaiian shaved ice treats.

MSP Kosher will certify the food trucks as kosher specifically for the event.

St. Louis Park-based Steel Toe Brewing will provide beer while Israeli and kosher wines will also be available.

Tickets are $30 for general admission or $150 for VIP admission. Funds from the festival will be used to help provide financial aid for students attending Beth El Aleph Preschool or Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

“One of our goals is to generate revenue that benefits both Beth El families and Benilde-St. Margaret’s families,” Ehrmantraut said.

Olitzky said he believed earlier leaders of the two institutions would approve of their plans.

“If you turned back the clock and spoke to our fore-bearers, I think they would be elated that this is what we’ve put together because it’s this day of a balance of radical hospitality combined with pure celebration,” he said.

Ehrmantraut noted that the Christian Brothers, who founded Benilde High School, sold land they owned next to the school to Beth El Synagogue, which had been located on the North Side of Minneapolis.

“They did a handshake deal at that point in time, and the relationship began right there between Beth El and Benilde-St. Margaret’s,” Ehrmantraut said. “Looking back, I think each of them would be very proud of the way in which we’ve interacted as neighbors and played an important role in St. Louis Park.”

Olitzky noted that he participates in an annual Thanksgiving interfaith service at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and students from the school often attend weekend services at the synagogue for their religious classes. All Benilde-St. Margaret’s freshmen students visit the synagogue during the Jewish festival of Sukkot for a day of learning. Preschool and older students help plant gardens together at each site. Much of the produce from the gardens is donated to the St. Louis Park Emergency Program food shelf.

“Those are different collaborations, but this is really the largest in scope and scale that we’ve done,” Olitzky said.

Ehrmantraut said, “We’re stepping it up a notch.”

Olitzky referenced a rabbinic tradition regarding conflict to discuss divisions elsewhere.

Olitzky explained, “If we can work together to navigate what that means, to stay away from conflict for the sake of conflict but instead engender a culture where dialogue, even if there is conflict, is healthy, then that’s what it means to be good neighbors. If we could create an atmosphere where people from all over, all walks of life, could come and just have a good day celebrating being alive, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

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