Love Abounds at Cedar Grove Interfaith Prayer Event

Mid-Atlantic  |  December 17, 2022
Tzu Shao sign language performance
Tzu Chi youth volunteers’ Sign Language performance receives enthusiastic applause. Photo/Shouyong Gao

Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

The Township of Cedar Grove, NJ, held an interfaith prayer and appreciation event before the Thanksgiving holiday that invited individuals and faith communities to exchange heartfelt messages of hope and love for the coming year. Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region was first invited to participate in this special annual event after providing relief following 9/11, and hasn’t missed it since. 

The interfaith prayer event returned to the Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, NJ, after a three-year pause due to the pandemic. Gathered together once more, people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs shared how their faiths may vary, but compassion is without boundaries.

Gratitude in Unity

Jewish singing hymns in the Church
Recitations from Psalm 133 move attendees’ hearts and lift their spirits. Photo/Shouyong Gao
President of Temple Sholom of West Essex
Josh Burch of the Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, NJ, leads guests in prayer. Photo/Shouyong Gao

At 7:30 PM, a series of prayers began with moving recitations from Psalm 133, the 133rd psalm of the Book of Psalms. As the host of the prayer gathering, Josh Burch of Temple Sholom of West Essex, called upon all in attendance to work together for a healthier, more loving global community. 

Father Juan Jose Esteban of St Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church also shared a profound lesson from his own life with those gathered, saying, “People tend to forget the 99% they already have and focus on the 10% they don’t.”

This moment of appreciation reminds us to be grateful for what we have.

Tzu Chi volunteer giving speech
Tzu Chi volunteer Chikai King delivers a speech on behalf of Tzu Chi. Photo/Shouyong Gao

In his speech, Tzu Chi volunteer Chikai King introduced the origin of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank. Hoping to find answers to some of life’s greatest questions, our founder, the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen, began to study Buddhism. And at the age of 25, she decided to leave home and become a nun. Deeply affected by the suffering she saw around her, Master Cheng Yen and 30 female spiritual followers vowed to make a difference. They began making baby shoes for sale, and put US 2¢ aside daily from their grocery fund in homemade bamboo banks to help others. Through this spirit of gentle perseverance and steadfast dedication, wonders did abound. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was established in 1966, and the Foundation’s footprints of humanitarian relief have now reached over 100 countries and regions worldwide. 

Chikai King additionally conveyed how everyone can be a living bodhisattva if they have love in their heart, as a bodhisattva’s concern for the well-being of others has no limits or end. Living bodhisattvas are committed to their mission; they do not fear difficulties. 

Tzu Chi in the Community

Meeting with each other again after three years, the attendees felt eachother’s long-awaited joy via prayers and songs. Cantor Stephanie Kupfer, who’s had a passion for singing since she was just five years old, shared that in the face of such unpredictability during the pandemic, “music can heal and guide people, and it’s good to be here together, to feel joy and peace in the midst of fear.”

Joe Zichelli,
Joe Zichelli, Deputy Mayor of the Township of Cedar Grove, is interviewed after the gathering, and thanks Tzu Chi for donating eco-blankets during the pandemic. Image/Video Screenshot

Also present for this special event was Joe Zichelli, Deputy Mayor of Cedar Grove, who thanked Tzu Chi for the eco-friendly blankets delivered to the community amidst the pandemic.

We are so grateful that we are able to come together and look forward to doing so every year.

Mr & Mrs Rita, resident of Cedar Grove
Tzu Chi interviews Rita and her husband at the event. Image/Video Screenshot

Rita and her husband live near Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office and count Tzu Chi as good neighbors. Tzu Chi’s blue and white uniforms have become a common sight, indeed, and they were glad to be together again that evening.

The day marked a precious opportunity for Tzu Chi to interact with local community residents, community partners, and faith leaders. By the gathering’s conclusion, everyone was already looking forward to next year’s meeting.

Master Cheng Yen has always taught us the importance of being appreciative, and that’s why we can connect with other religious groups. It is a precious opportunity to have good interactions with different religions.

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