Charleston Interreligious Council to Host Second Annual Speaker Series in October

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Religious scholar Rabbi Reuven Firestone will headline the second annual James Sawers Jr. Speaker Series hosted by the Charleston Interreligious Council (formerly Christian-Jewish Council). Firestone will give a number of lectures and presentations during the three-day event, aimed at being an inclusive showcase for religious diversity.

The speaker series will address such timely topics as “Who are the (Real) Chosen People” and “How To Diss a (False) Prophet: Protecting Religion by Rejecting God’s Messengers,” among others. This series of free lectures and workshops is Oct. 11-13 at various locations around Charleston. It is named for the late Dr. James Sawers Jr., who served as president for the Christian-Jewish Council of Greater Charleston.

“The Charleston Interreligious Council has become a leading voice for building respectful relations among people of all religious traditions,” said David Bossman, a professor in the Department of Religion Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey who also serves on the council’s advisory committee. “Rabbi Firestone has expertise particularly in the Jewish and Muslim traditions. What better way to foster peace and fellowship than to learn about others and to engage them in peaceful conversation.”

Born in Northern California, Firestone is the Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an affiliate professor of religion at the University of Southern California. As a recipient of numerous research fellowships and university invitations, Firestone is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow in Berlin. This year he also was a held a Sigi Feigel Visiting Professorship for Jewish Studies at the University of Zürich. Firestone has written more than 100 scholarly chapters and articles and eight books with several translations. He has also served as vice president of the Association for Jewish Studies and president of the International Qur’anic Studies Association.

The schedule for this year’s James Sawers Jr. Speaker Series:

“How To Diss a (False) Prophet: Protecting Religion by Rejecting God’s Messengers”

Thursday, Oct. ?11 at 7:30 p.m.
Arnold Hall, Jewish Studies Building, 1st floor, College of Charleston, 96 Wentworth St., Charleston, SC 29424

The problem that all religions must confront: Is the prophet authentic? If he is not, then the message and the religion he brings is false. All scriptures warn us not to follow false prophets, but who is to say? This presentation will consider how religions have responded to the challenge of new and challenging prophets and how that has impacted interreligious relations today.

“The Story of Prophet Muhammad: Narrative and Counter-Narrative in Islam, Christianity and Judaism”

Friday, Oct. 12 at 9:30 a.m.
Hanahan Hall, Annex Building (2nd floor), adjacent to Grace Cathedral, 98 Wentworth St., Charleston, SC 29401

Like Judaism’s grand narrative about the biblical patriarchs and the Exodus from Egypt that leads to the giving of God’s Torah at Mt. Sinai, and like Christianity’s grand narrative about the life and mission of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection, Islam has a grand narrative about the life of the Prophet Muhammad who faithfully conveyed God’s revelation to humanity. It is a beautiful and compelling story … to Muslims. But Jews and Christians have seen the story differently and have constructed versions of it that are not so complimentary.

“Abraham: The First Jew, Christian or Muslim. A Comparative Study of the Patriarch in three Scriptures”

Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 at noon

Library, 2nd floor, Jewish Studies Building, College of Charleston, 96 Wentworth St., Charleston, SC 29424

While we differ over many religious issues, Jews, Christians and Muslims can at least agree about their common forefather Abraham. Or can we? We will examine scriptural portrayals of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Qur’an to consider how our religious traditions have really understood the person of Abraham.

“The Five Pillars of Islam & Judaism”
Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m.
Main Sanctuary at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, 90 Hasell St., Charleston, SC 29401
In this presentation, we will study the five core aspects of Islam as defined by Islam itself, and will observe how they relate to Judaism. Be prepared to be surprised.

“Noah and the Flood in Bible and Qur’an: Is it the Same Story?”

Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m.
Social Hall at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, 90 Hasell St., Charleston, SC 29401
In this session, we will study the story of Noah and the Flood in two scriptures and observe similarities and differences.
“Who Are the (Real) Chosen People? The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam”
Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.
Main Sanctuary, Synagogue Emanuel (West Ashley), 5 Windsor Drive, Charleston, SC 29407

What does it mean to be “chosen” in Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Can God chose only one?

All events are free and open to the public. Those of all faiths and religious backgrounds are welcome to attend and be part of this conversation.

“Dr. Firestone is that unique teacher who can bring multiple religious faith traditions into dialogue with one another through the study of their sacred texts and historical developments,” said Rabbi Stephanie Alexander, spiritual leader, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and first female Rabbi in Charleston. “As such, his presentations will provide a wonderful opportunity for members of Charleston’s various religious communities to come together and dialogue, as well.”

For questions about the speaker series, contact Ken Fox at 843-763-3150 or

About Charleston Interreligious Council

Charleston Interreligious Council seeks to build bridges of understanding to promote sensitivity, tolerance, respect and fellowship among religious groups. It fulfills this mission by developing, presenting and/or sponsoring educational programs to promote intra- and inter-religious dialogue; conducting, sponsoring and/or supporting inter-religious events, service oriented projects and activities; increasing public awareness of inter-religious issues and shared concerns. Formerly known as Christian-Jewish Council of Greater Charleston, Charleston Interreligious Council works to provide educational opportunities that reflect its mission and goals. For information, visit


Head shot of Rabbi Reuven Firestone

Do You Believe in Heaven? – Survey Results

Several weeks ago, we reached out and asked you to participate in a short two question survey entitled “Do You Believe In Heaven”.? We asked that question and as a follow up, what is your personal perception/believe in what Heaven is.? We are so thankful to all those that generously participated in this survey.

What is very interesting about the comments is that they range from faith to science and some in between.? Whether religion, faith, spirituality or science places into your personal beliefs, it is clear that believing in something is important in life’s journey.

We would like to present you with the results and some of the candid comments provided to us.

Do you believe in Heaven?

Yes – 61.90%

No – 38.10%

What do you believe Heaven is?

“I believe heaven is where all good people reside after death.”

“After you have lived the lives you were meant to live and your soul has learned the lessons that were needed to reach your highest self, Heaven is a place where your soul or essence of being continues on in another state of consciousness. Ideally what I would like to believe is that we are reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us and we no longer have feelings of fear, pain or anxiety.”

“We all all made of energy and energy does not die.? Heaven may be a metaphysical state that we cannot comprehend in our current place in life, but it is part of the continuation of energy.”

“I do not have a definitive answer. What I perceive is beyond description, except for poor analogies of life existence and experience. In one sense it is recognition of oneness and acceptance of the presence of the Source, in whatever form that may prove to be. In another it is manifestation of all one’s best imagined existences.”

“Union with God.”

“Place prepared by God for Christians.”

“I believe it’s way above the clouds. I believe the St. Peter has to approve ones entry. Once inside you can visit all generations of family and friends as you remember then. You can go back in time an see yourself at 14 years of age or 84. Ambrosia is not the only food available; there a fine dining rooms, excellent restaurants, fast food spots and bar-b-que joints. Elegant bars and lounges, beer & juke joints and bars with peanuts shells on the floor. Seasonal rains and temperatures that suit the one that you consider just right for the area you dwell in. And peace–personal and political–throughout the Earth.”

“A place that God dwells that is Holy and spiritual. It is a place that the righteous, those that follow Christ, will reside with God.”

“Peace of mind, no physical pain.”


“A place of peace and happiness!”

“Spirited particles of energy surrounded by higher particles of engulfing sustaining energy that move beyond our comprehended physical dimension.”

“It is a real place of indescribably beauty.? Utopia realized.”

Charleston Southern Football welcomes Evan Cruz to their family

By Mark A. Leon - Photography by Craig Bailey / Florida Today
By Mark A. Leon – Photography by Craig Bailey / Florida Today

On November 14, 2015, Evan Cruz, a sought after recruit for Charleston Southern University Football, was invited to attend the Charleston Southern Saturday afternoon game against Liberty and visit the campus. On the way to the game from Viera, Florida his father, cousin and Evan made a brief stop outside of Savannah, GA. On the way back to the highway, they were T-boned and sent spinning off the road.

Evan’s father was rushed to the local hospital for a possible rib injury while Evan and his cousin were examined for precautionary measures and spent the majority of that Saturday in the ER. Evan and his family did not complete that trip, but something happened that remained with Evan and his family long after that day. After contacting the coaching staff regarding his accident, they showed genuine concern for Evan and his family by checking in on them even well after the Liberty game. The idea of family and values that embodies the Charleston Southern Football team never left Evan.

The week before signing day Evan remained in Florida and had still not made it to Charleston Southern University. He had yet to commit to where he would play the following year though Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Florida Institute of Technology were actively pursuing him. A visit Photograhy by Ernie Cruzfrom Charleston Southern Buccaneer Quarterback Coach and Florida Recruiter, Mark Tucker to Viera High School, made the decision easier for the future physical therapist. Coach Tucker along with the rest of the staff knew that Evan was the right “fit” for the university. With a strong faith system, solid academic focus (carrying a 3.8 GPA), a balance of mental and physical health and a future career plan in place, Evan symbolized the player the coaching staff knew would be an integral part of the winning team he wants to build.

After a few days of deep family discussions, Evan committed to the Charleston Southern team. Coach Tucker cautioned Evan about making his decision without even seeing the campus however weighing all the factors and remembering the incredible outreach after his accident, Evan knew this was the right move.

Just two days after seeing the campus for the first time and three weeks after committing to Charleston Southern, Charleston Daily sat down with Evan, and his parent’s, Ernie and April, at Carmella’s on East Bay Street on a sunny Friday afternoon to discuss the past, present and future of one of the newest Buccaneers.

Evan’s Childhood

Evan’s football career began when he was 5 years old, in a town known more for soccer than football. With his father Ernie Cruz coaching his little league youth football team, Evan and five of his closest friends developed leadership skills, strength, discipline and a lifelong commitment to the game.

At age five, Evan didn’t know that someday, he would step onto the field as a member of two remaining teams playing in the state championship. That became a reality for him and 27 other graduating seniors on December 11, 2015, the last football game Evan played before making a life changing move to Charleston this fall.

Photography by Ernie CruzEntering the Viera High School football program as high-school freshmen, Evan’s class, led by Coach Kevin Mays, carried on its back a team that was 12 – 30 the previous four years and when the final whistle blew at the end of the 2012 season, the Hawks managed only one victory. How does one recover from such losses and rebuild? Possibly by remembering their youth football coach’s words that he instilled – follow your heart, believe in yourself and never stop fighting.

That year, 2013, Evan’s high school team went from a one win season to 8 – 2. The 2014 and 2015 seasons, they were also victorious with 9-1 and 10-5 records, respectively.

The dramatic turnaround for the team led by Coach Mays and staff brought hope and rejuvenation to the town of Viera. Fan support began to stretch outside of Viera to neighboring counties and even from Allen, TX ( Viera played an out of state match-up against national ranked Allen Eagles earlier in the season)following this string of wins with rally cries all the way to the state championship.

Viera Hawks Football stands behind the mission: Unity defines our willingness to work as a team to put forth the effort to win the battle. These are strong words that will only lead to success with unwavering leadership, confidence and fight. What Ernie Cruz embedded in his little league youth football team ten years earlier was equally enforced during their time representing Viera Hawks Football.

Today, Evan enters into a program that has lived a similar storyline. From 2007 through 2012, Charleston Southern went 26 – 41; since then they have been 28 – 10 with big match-ups against Florida and Florida State slated for the next two seasons. With so many similarities in the programs and a coaching staff that feels like family, Evan’s decision to join Charleston Southern continues to be reinforced internally.

Evan has now visited his future campus, and is due to attend classes and start practice in the summer semester. He is settling in with his teammates and knows they are growing into one big family that truly cares about one another. Ernie and April Cruz feel comfortable with the Christian fellowship available at Charleston Southern as well as the comfortable hospitality offered by the city of Charleston. A warm genuineness permeated our interview with April, Ernie and Evan. They were very generous with their stories and enthusiastic about the future. An adage emerged several times during our conversation; everything happens for a reason. Faith and goodwill brought together Evan Cruz and Charleston Southern University. The partnership of a young student athlete and a growing football program will lead to a bright future for both.

Photography by Cathy Heinz / Viera Vision