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Rabbi tunes in to interfaith issues

August 26, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

With Washington County experiencing a surge in interfaith worship and dialogue, Fred Raskind should fit right in.

"Over the years, I've studied at several Protestant divinity schools," said the new rabbi at Hagerstown's Congregation B'nai Abraham. And throughout his career, Raskind has initiated or fostered interfaith activities whenever he could.

A Boston native, Raskind, 59, went to high school there, then enrolled at Boston University to study philosophy and religion.

He later took classes at a United Methodist school in Boston, and at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York. He took additional courses in pastoral counseling at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., and at Hebrew Union College in New York.

Raskind came to Hagerstown to fill the position recently vacated by Janice Garfunkel, who also was a strong proponent of interfaith work during her seven years as rabbi at the local synagogue.

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Further easing Raskind's transition to Hagerstown was his participation Aug. 17 in a Jewish-Islamic-Christian interfaith service hosted at Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street.

"The first step is to listen," he said. Raskind and Qasim Burmi, imam of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, each spoke briefly on the topic, "What I Wish Christians to Know About My People and Their Faith."

"I found that Pastor Don Stevenson and I had crossed paths before at Erskine College in Due West, S.C.," Raskind said. "I had spoken there about 25 years ago and we discovered we have mutual friends."

Stevenson is senior minister of Christ's Reformed Church.

Over the years, Raskind said he has done a lot of interfaith work, both at the congregational level and in campus ministry. For much of his career, he combined campus ministry with a congregation.

While in Athens, Ga., Raskind took another big step toward interfaith understanding in that community.

"There was a wonderful event in Athens where on one Sunday a year, there was a pastoral exchange," Raskind said. "I brought the synagogue into that rotation."

Then he got interested in pastoral counseling, took courses in bereavement and became licensed as a professional counselor, Raskind said. "I didn't want to have a full-time congregational position, at least for a while."

Raskind and his family then moved to Atlanta, and soon he was in a part-time ministry at a small congregation in Alabama.

"I went there thinking I'd see how this works," he said. "I stayed 14 years."

During those years, he maintained his counseling practice, a combination he said worked well.

In 1999, Raskind returned full time to the pulpit in a congregation about the size of Hagerstown's in Vero Beach, Fla. "I worked with them through several crises," he said.

While in Florida, Raskind and a Unitarian Universalist pastor organized an interfaith forum that met monthly for a luncheon and "wonderful" discussions, during which each asked the other how they did things in their particular religion.

"There were about 20 of us, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian, Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian and others," he said.

After three years there, Raskind took an associateship in a big congregation in Hollywood, Fla. He described the experience as very different but interesting.

"I decided I needed a new place to live and I had had enough of the beach - I like the mountains," Raskind said about making the move to Maryland.

Raskind has two sons, both living in Atlanta. Bill is 24 and a certified public accountant, and Danny, 22, is in engineering school.

Congregation B'nai Abraham is at 53 E. Baltimore St. Services are Fridays at 8 p.m.

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