Rabbi's friendship with pastor brings hope to struggling Skokie temple

SKOKIE, Ill. (WLS) -- The pandemic has created financial hardship for communities of faith, including a Jewish temple in Skokie that's on the brink of closing for good. But the rabbi's faith - and a strong friendship - are keeping hopes alive for 2021.

At Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, sun shines through a skylight, but the temple is facing dark times financially.

"I worry there will be a day, shortly ahead, in which we won't have the finances to support our synagogue," Rabbi Doug Goldhamer said.

Their financial troubles started just before the pandemic, but since COVID hit, there have been no in-person services and staff salaries have been slashed.

The congregation has a GoFundMe page, and a video shows how they serve the deaf and hearing-impaired.

"The words are painted in the air: thou shall love thy neighbor as thy self," Rabbi Goldhamer said.

While the temple faces financial challenges, the rabbi is relying on a life-long friendship with the associate pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Evanston.

The rabbi and pastor met 40 years ago at a gas station. At the time, the pastor was a gas station attendant, and the rabbi needed help with his vehicle.

"I would never ever thought that I would be this close to a rabbi," said Rev. Richard Mercer.

"My brother flesh and blood. I love him that much," Rabbi Goldhamer said.

Although Rev. Mercer is rooted in faith now, he was engulfed by drugs and troubles 40 years ago.

"I prayed and asked God for help and two angels came to my life," Rev. Mercer said.

The rabbi and his wife were the angels. Over the years, the men have shared their faith. And now with COVID, they're sharing strength with all of us.

"We are knocked down with COVID, but we're not knocked out," Rev. Mercer said. "If we're not knocked out, we can always come back."

And that's the hope for all of us in 2021, whether it's a temple, a church, or a friendship.
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