Congregation Beth Emeth to host annual Union Thanksgiving Service on Nov. 26; Deb Riitano to speak

Deb Riitano

ALBANY– Congregation Beth Emeth will host the annual Union Thanksgiving Service at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the synagogue, 100 Academy Rd. The service, which is open to the community, is a tradition that connects Congregation Beth Emeth, Trinity Methodist Church, The First Unitarian Society of Albany and Westminster Presbyterian Church. Clergy from the participating congregations will have a role in the service, along with an interfaith congregational volunteer choir, coordinated this year by Cantor Jodi Schechtman of Beth Emeth.

The Union Thanksgiving Service dates to the late 1920s. The origins of the service date to three separate incidences decades ago when the congregations of  Westminster, Trinity and the Unitarian Society all sustained a fire in their houses of worship. On all three occasions, Beth Emeth, which was located in downtown Albany at the time, opened its doors to the congregations so that they would have a place to worship until their churches were restored. In appreciation for Beth Emeth’s hospitality, Trinity embossed every third pew in its church with a menorah at its current location in downtown Albany.

“This annual tradition has now become a wonderful opportunity for our interfaith communities to gather together to celebrate a holiday that truly unites us as Americans,” said Beth Emeth Rabbi Scott Shpeen.

In addition to the service, Deb Riitano, commissioner of the Albany County Department of Aging, will be the guest speaker at this years’ gathering. She will deliver remarks on “Giving Thanks During Difficult Times.”

“Of all the things I do, interfaith is my vocation and avocation,” Riitano has said. Riitano is the chairwoman of the Albany County Interfaith Coalition, a longtime member of Jewish Catholic Dialogue and is a founding member of the newly created Interfaith Alliance of Upstate NY. She has also been co-chairperson of various local Holocaust exhibitions.

In her role as commissioner, Riitano is involved in several programs for the aging, including being a member of the Area Agencies on Aging for New York State, the Senior Issues Forum and the Statewide Senior Action Council. She also directs the “Go and Dine’ program for older adults and created “The Kids Lunchbox,” a summer lunch program for children in West Hill and the South End.

Those planning to attend are asked to bring a non-perishable food donation for the Focus Food Pantry.

A reception, underwritten by the Rabbi Martin I. Silverman Interreligious Fund of Congregation Beth Emeth, will be held following the service.

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