Rabbi helps S.F. interfaith breakfast stack up nicely

After the choir concluded chanting, members "asked him to strike a certain chord," Baugh said. The ensemble then brought down the house with "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

"It's a really cool thing," said Baugh of the San Francisco event, which brings together representatives of all faiths for song, prayer and community building.

Baugh, spiritual leader of San Francisco's Or Shalom Jewish Community, is co-chairing this year's gathering with the Rev. Jimmy Hardaway of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.

"We're having a great time," she said.

Many of those who will participate at this year's prayer breakfast on Tuesday saw each other not so long ago at a San Francisco vigil for victims of the summer's anti-Semitic violence.

Over the years, there have been numerous interfaith breakfasts, hosted by various congregations. But last year, at the urging of director Rita Semel, the San Francisco Interfaith Council decided to become permanent host.

Baugh, a three-year member of the council, has enjoyed working with other clergy. Among other things, she has discovered that most say they are overwhelmed.

"The main thing we're running into is that we are all carrying so much," she said.

Take Baugh for example. As first vice president of the National Conference for Renewal Rabbis, she is pulling together that group's annual meeting, which will follow on the heels of the breakfast.

But while she and Hardaway were stretched in preparing Tuesday's event, they wouldn't give up the opportunity.

"It's great that we are able to share individual experiences as well as the work" involved in putting the breakfast together, Hardaway said.

"And we lift each other up in prayer…There are many things [about our faiths] that are similar."

As part of their main duties, Hardaway lined up sponsors and Baugh put together a prayerbook. Prayers came in from Samoan and Tongan ministers and from the Chinese Christian Union, among others.

Prayers will be read in Arabic, Hebrew or the traditional language of the worshippers, "so they will be authentic to the way people truly pray," Baugh said. "But [they] will also be translated in the prayerbook so we can all follow."

Baugh remembered one prayer last year that featured a line from Isaiah: "My house will be a house of all people."

At that point, Mayor Willie Brown turned to Baugh and said, "I like the feel of this."

For those who would dismiss the effort as a mere feel-good measure, Baugh said, "Yes, it's feel-good. Feel-good is important.

"The purpose is to bring together a citywide representation of the faith community to pray for the mayor, the city and everyone who is a part of this city."

However, "This is not a political event," she said. "We are not there to support Mayor Brown, but to bless Mayor Brown. And next year, if someone else is in Mayor Brown's chair, we will bless that person."

In fact, the council could not take a unified political stand even if it wanted to — its members are as divided as the larger community on many matters.

This year's sponsors include Congregation Sherith Israel and Or Shalom, both of San Francisco.

The breakfast will open with the chanting of a Hindu nun. Fourth-graders from Brandeis-Hillel Day School will also sing, as will the Or Shalom choir.

Discussing last year's breakfast, Baugh said, "What made it for me was watching person after person coming up to offer prayers that were so personal, with no introduction, no fanfare. It was a very humble kind of gathering. You can say Mayor Brown isn't a humble guy if you want to, but he was very plainly moved."

This year's prayer breakfast will be held from 6 to 8 a.m. Tuesday in San Francisco. Information and reservations: (415) 242-9993.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.