This year’s Rabin Peacemaker Award goes to…

Way back in 1979, during a period of tension between African Americans and Jews, Rabbi Amiel Wohl and Rev. Vernon Shannon of New Rochelle started the Coalition for Mutual Respect.

They brought together members of Temple Israel of New Rochelle and St. Catherine AME Zion Church to talk things out and get to know one another better. Before long, many others in New Rochelle were getting involved.

A statement from the new group emphasized that “we are peoples tied together who can achieve more working in concert than in our separate ways.”

The coalition also began to award the annual Yitzak Rabin Peacemaker Award. This year’s honoree is the Rev. Martin L. Nelson, senior pastor of Bezer Holiness Church in New Rochelle.

I had the chance to chat with Nelson, a soft-spoken gentleman, several times over the years at various events. I think I saw him last at an interfaith seder.

He always stuck out to me because you don’t often see pastors from evangelical churches at interfaith events (at least around here). The Protestant ministers are generally from mainline traditions.

According to a press release from the coalition:


Pastor Nelson firmly believes in the church serving and improving the local community by becoming involved. In pursuit of that vision, in 2009 he founded and launched New Life Outreach, a faith-based program that aims to help individuals with harmful addictions as well as provide after care support to those recovering from substance abuse in New Rochelle and surrounding communities.

His passion for and commitment to helping others and improving the community is evident in his contributions through multiple organizations. He currently serves as President of the Interdenominational Pastor’s Council. He is former treasurer of the Inter Religious Council of New Rochelle and is a member of the Coalition for Mutual Respect. He is a New York State certified Chaplin and serves on the Board of Trustees for Isaka Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides essential services to children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya, Africa.

Born on the island of Grenada, West Indies, he migrated to Antigua where he served as an Officer in the Antigua Police Force, rising to the ranks of Special Agent to the Prime Minister. He received Advanced degrees in Religious Education from Anchor Theological Seminary in Texas and the Manhattan Bible Institute in New York. He is also a graduate of New York School of the Bible and Nyack Mission College. He is currently pursuing a license from Lehman College as a substance abuse counselor.

God made you do what?

Got a copy of a new book by New Rochelle resident Marc Hartzman called “God Made Me Do It.”

Some people will think it’s real funny.

Others might not.

n259329031859_7728Hartzman compiled over 200 examples of ridiculous things people have done because they said God told them to.

Each anecdote gets a page or two — complete with a short, snarky headline, a quotation from someone and a few paragraphs of explanation.

What did people do because of divine requests?

Become a stripper. Toilet paper a police station. Get bit by a poisonous snake. Walk on a high wire. Shoplift. Mutilate a brother. Lead police on a high-speed chase. Open a porn shop. Not bury the dead. Swim the English Channel.

And on and on.

Many of the people quoted seem to be…not quite right.

There are a lot of quotations like: “God came to me in a dream and gave me this sauce.”

And: “God told me to open a shoe repair shop in the bus.”

And: “The Lord specifically commanded me to rob the banks…”

And: “God spoke to me and said ‘Maybe a wedding chapel will be a good thing to put in that pawnshop.’ ”

Hartzman includes the tales of a bunch of famous people, such as (obvious target) Pat Robertson, told by God to run for president, Oral Roberts, told he would be “called home” by God if he didn’t raise enough money, and former boxing champ Evander Holyfield, told by God that he would win a fight in the third round (but didn’t).

Yeah, it’s all pretty irreverent.

Hartzman seems to dismiss the idea of God telling anyone anything.

In the book’s “Opening Sermon,” Hartzman writes that he witnessed a “healthy patch of shrubbery spontaneously burst into flames,” after which God told him to write the book.

He quotes God as saying: “Write the book, sell a million copies, and buy yourself something nice. Like I said, I command thee.”

My colleague Rich Liebson interviewed Hartzman not along ago. The story should be on LoHud any day now.