By Ethan Weber
In November 2008, the body of local homeless man Brian Hoover, 39, was found in Town of Wallkill, in the woods behind Hannaford Supermarket. Investigators determined he had died of exposure. His death came three weeks before the scheduled opening of the Warming Station, an overnight shelter in Middletown for people with no other place to sleep.
Hoover became not only another victim of the Great Recession, but a rallying point for the Greater Middletown Interfaith Council, the organization that operates the Warming Station and to which Orange Chamber members First Baptist Church and Temple Sinai belong.
“That really motivated us to prevent that from happening again,” said Rabbi Joel Schwab of Temple Sinai and Chair of the Warming Station Initiative. “People who are homeless are just like everyone else,” he continued. “The difference is they don’t have a place to stay at night.”
Another Chamber member, SUNY Orange, has joined the fight against homelessness in Middletown by hosting Band Together, an afternoon of live music including blues, rock, country, and reggae and featuring Rachel Berkman and Generations, as well as Jeremy Torres. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Interfaith Council, allowing the group to continue running the shelter.
Orange County residents understand that SUNY Orange is more than a college. It is a resource for a diverse community.
“Orange County is an amazing microcosm of America as a whole,” said President Bill Richards of SUNY Orange. “The entire spectrum, right down to the poorest of the poor, are right here in Orange County.”
SUNY Orange, itself, is a microcosm, with a student body representing multiple ethnicities, nationalities and creeds. The college’s Department of Global Studies organizes year-long “global initiatives” focusing on topics “of global importance.” Discussions of culture and religion are part of those initiatives. For the college, working with the Interfaith Council seems natural.
“Our role as educators is to make sure we’re doing what the community expects of us,” said Richards. “[The college] is a neutral ground, and we’re here only to educate.”
The Interfaith Council sees an advantage in having an academic institution as a partner in Band Together. Rabbi Schwab views millennials as being accustomed to interfaith dialogue. However, that same tolerance tends to lessen their involvement with interfaith groups. Diverse social circles, observance of various holidays and the accessibility of ethnic food and music can create a sense that there is no more work to be done. Schwab hopes SUNY Orange’s involvement will show its students that charity is also a major component of interfaith work.
“That’s something we all have in common as faith groups,” he said, citing Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25.
Band Together is about charity, but at its core is music – something else all faiths share. “Music is like good literature,” Richards said. “It’s a common thing to the human species. It brings people together regardless of background.”
Schwab sees music as a tool for both worship and goodwill. “What religious communities do as part of their prayer life – music – can be utilized to support what religious communities do as a central part of their value system – the ministry to those who need help.”
Band Together will be held on the Alumni Green of SUNY Orange’s Middletown campus Sunday, June 7 from 2:00-5:00 p.m.
(Ethan Weber is a graduate of SUNY Orange and Bucknell University, with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. He is currently a free-lance writer.)