The headline of the Hickory, North Carolina Daily Record read: “The Core of Life.” The article covered an account of several religious leaders coming together to form an interfaith council that would have as its goal tolerance and mutual respect, irrespective of religious affiliations. The group agreed that by working together, emphasizing the core human values and principles held in common within the various experiences and faith traditions, it would foster mutual respect, tolerance and justice, thereby serving the greater good of mankind.
One of the community religious leaders instrumental in forming the council was Rabbi Dennis Jones of Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory, North Carolina. For many years Jones also served as a Vice-President of United Israel World Union, an organization whose motto is: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Little more than an hour northwest of Hickory stands the Wildacres Retreat conference center. The beautiful facility is situated at an elevation of 3,300 feet on 1,600 acres atop Pompey’s Knob, a mountain near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. In 1946, Dr. I.D. and Madolyn Blumenthal, of Charlotte, NC, dedicated the facility to the improvement of human relations and interfaith dialogue. Among the most prominent families in North Carolina, Dr. and Mrs. Blumenthal were champions of human rights and pillars within the body whole of American Judaism. Significantly, Wildacres was to be a true sanctuary of learning, dedicated to the betterment of human understanding. Since 1972, Wildacres has operated as a public foundation.
A little known event from the rich history of Wildacres bears mentioning.
In August 1968, the 21st annual B’nai B’rith Institute of Judaism was held at the retreat. The theme of the Institute was “The State of Israel on its 20th Anniversary: Discussions of its World-Wide Influences,” covering the religious, political and cultural aspects. The Institute’s curriculum included lectures by three keynote speakers:
Dr. Chaim Pearl, who arrived in the U.S. from England three years earlier to serve as Rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale, N.Y. delivered three lectures on Israel’s worldwide religious influences. He had authored several books on Judaism.
Dr. Richard J. Israel, the director of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at Yale University since 1959 and once served as the spiritual leader of the Jewish Religious Union of Bombay, India lectured on the subject: “Can Israel Contribute to an American-Jewish Ideology.”
The third speaker was UN Correspondent and President of the Foreign Press Association, David Horowitz. As the UN and US correspondent for Israel’s daily “Hayom,” Mr. Horowitz lectured on Israel’s political influence. His lecture titles included: “Retrospect: Behind the Scenes Glimpses of Israel’s Statehood,” “Israel’s Relations with Her Neighbors,” and “What of the Future?”
Dennis Jones first met David Horowitz in the early 1990s and became active in the affairs of United Israel World Union, the organization Horowitz founded in 1944. In 1994 he became a member of the board of directors and later served as a vice president in the organization. After completing rabbinical studies and his ordination, Rabbi Dennis Jones now serves a vibrant and growing congregation at Temple Beth Shalom in nearby Hickory.
Dr. Blumenthal was also a friend of David Horowitz and a supporter of United Israel World Union. Many of his philanthropic activities and support of just causes were featured in various issues of the United Israel Bulletins.
The impact of Wildacres on church groups towards a better understanding of Judaism was very strong according to the many communications received by Dr. Blumenthal. One such letter from Pastor Kenneth L. Hollifield of the Durham Memorial Baptist Church may serve as an example: “Please let me express to you my sincere thanks for one of the finest and most helpful weeks in my entire life as a minister. Our understanding of other faiths is much greater for having visited Wildacres. Rabbi Gelfman was especially helpful in helping us to understand the Jewish people and Judaism.” The Pastor concluded by saying “I sincerely believe that one of our greatest needs today is a better understanding among all races and religions.”
Just a few miles down the road in Hickory, NC, there’s a group of dedicated souls doing their part to make that happen and like a steady undercurrent just below the surface, United Israel World Union leaves its influential fingerprints on the collective effort.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union and author of “The Book of David: David Horowitz: Dean of United Nations Press Corps and Founder: United Israel World Union.”