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Fathers befriend on court, bond at church

Rabbi Darren Levine of Tamid stands inside St.

Rabbi Darren Levine of Tamid stands inside St. Paul's Church on Broadway. (April 11, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

Two dads developed a relationship watching their sons play basketball at a neighborhood playground, never knowing they had a common link -- until an opportune moment arose for a seed to be planted.

"I needed a place for worship and thought about Trinity [church]," said Rabbi Darren Levine of Battery Park City. And when he searched Trinity Wall Street's website, to his delight he found his friend's photo.

"I didn't know Mark was a priest at Trinity. I was shocked. I had no idea," Levine said of the Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones of Battery Park City, hoping his basketball friendship could bear fruit on the spiritual front.

And it did. Bozzuti-Jones agreed that St. Paul's Church, a few blocks from Trinity and a part of the Episcopal church's parish, could offer sanctuary to Levine's growing flock of his new Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue.

Fast-forward to May, two months after the idea was hatched, and for the first time a reformed Jewish congregation will hold regular Friday services at St. Paul's Church in Lower Manhattan. St. Paul's, the historic church where 9/11 responders received care and solace, also will open its sanctuary for High Holy Days services in the fall.

"I didn't know Darren was a rabbi, and he didn't know who I was," said Bozzuti-Jones, who, with Levine, had been watching their middle school-age sons play basketball for two years.

"This is truly an example that we are all connected as a community," Bozzuti-Jones said. "It is important we treat everybody with respect, love and dignity because you never know when your lives will be connected."

The partnership with Trinity "is an alignment of open minds and open hearts," Levine said. "We're about interfaith, dual-faith, secular and liberal."

Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue, has about 55 members and has been worshipping at other synagogues and public event spaces after Levine opened a Hebrew school in the TriBeCa area seven years ago.

"We are creating a 21st century synagogue that is creative and artistic," Levine said. "We serve individuals and families looking for a progressive spiritual home."

The Christian and Jewish alliance is a godsend for Jamie Propp, 42, of Battery Park City, who has been looking for a place of worship to start laying down a religious foundation for his 7-year-old daughter.

"I have been waiting for a really inviting and friendly gathering space that I can feel a part of and feel comfortable -- to be in the company of like-minded people," said Propp, who previously attended an Orthodox Jewish congregation.

Propp said the idea of services at St. Paul's has created "an excitement -- a feeling of optimism in the community."

"This is a commitment that happened in the most natural way," said the Rev. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Wall Street, who offered a historic look at interfaith cooperation.

In 1711, he said, Trinity was short on money to finish its steeple. According to vestry minutes, six members of the Shearith Israel Synagogue donated 5 pounds, 12 shillings and 2 pence "towards the finishing of the steeple of Trinity Church in New York in America." The total project cost 312 pounds.

"This goes beyond diversity. This is actually an affirmation and acknowledgment to help each other with no desire to commit or convert -- just have a healthy relationship to love others," Cooper said.

In the 1970s, St. Paul's Church welcomed a group of Muslim construction workers who were working on the Twin Towers site. With no place to pray, the church set aside a second-floor room for them to pray in, Cooper said.

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