For many years, relations between Temple Emanuel and Highland Presbyterian were warm, despite the two congregations' differing religious traditions.
They picnicked together.
They cared for each other's children during Holy Days.
They commiserated over renovations, even as they shared space in each other's houses of worship.
In 2004, after a move by the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly to consider disinvesting in companies that do business in Israel, relations between the two neighbors threatened to fray.
Presbyterian spokesmen said that they would target businesses that they believed were responsible for the suffering of Palestinians. For example, Caterpillar Inc. manufactures the bulldozers that Israel used to demolish Palestinian homes that were built without permits or belonged to families of suicide bombers.
The heads of several major Jewish organizations condemned the Presbyterian Church's decision. They felt that Israel was being singled out.
Between that announcement and a new resolution in June to replace the call for divestment, is a journey from hurt and anger to understanding and acceptance between the two local congregations.
In many ways, working through the conflict between their two congregations deepened their relationship, said Rabbi Mark Strauss-Cohn of Temple Emanuel and the Rev. Steve McCutchan, who retired in May as pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church after 23 years.
"In religions that are finding ways to split," McCutchan said, "we need to find ways to stay together."
The disinvestment issue had been simmering among Presbyterians for years, McCutchan said.
Christians in Palestine would complain about their treatment by Israel to the national Presbyterian Church, but their lives had not improved.
In 2004, the national church decided to take make a statement to the Palestinian Christians with their resolution for disinvestment, he said.
McCutchan was on sabbatical when the decision was announced, but some members of the temple came to the rabbi and wanted to stop their activities with Highland. For Jews, the move felt like a friend's betrayal, Strauss Cohn said.
Strauss-Cohn said that he wouldn't do anything until McCutchan returned.
The two men decided to set up a series of six Sunday meetings between their congregations. During those meetings, McCutchan said, he and the rabbi talked about how the resolution came about, why and what it meant for their two faiths. The meetings were so well attended that people in both congregations organized six more meetings.
As the meetings continued, McCutchan said that some members of his congregation wanted to lobby the regional Presbyterian Assembly to vote against the resolution.
McCutchan said he found himself disagreeing with his congregation's wording of their statement, but he showed them how to prepare a dissent.
Strauss-Cohn said that McCutchan's hesitancy didn't surprise him, but that he wasn't going to sever a relationship that he valued. "We're neighbors and friends,"Strauss-Cohn said.
McCutchan said he suspected that members of his congregation cared more about the relationship between the church and the temple than they did about politics in the Mideast.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, he said.
"The abstract politics is one thing, but when it affects our relationships," he said, "we don't like conflict and disruption."
He sees parallels in the increased openness to gays in American society, he said. Once people found out that their friends, neighbors, sons and daughters were gay, they felt less threatened.
Strauss-Cohn said he didn't mind that the Presbyterians may have been responding to the relationships they had with temple members more than a deep knowledge of the political issues.
"It's good to know you have friends enough to trust you," Strauss Cohn said, "even if they don't have the history."
What happened with their congregations is a microcosm of what happened across the country between Christians and Jews after the 2004 resolution. Christians and Jews met, talked and worked together to replace the resolution.
In June the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church replaced the call for disinvestment. It called for the church to invest only in peaceful pursuits that reflected the fundamental principles of justice and peace common to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The new resolution also acknowledged the hurt caused by the 2004 resolution.
Both McCutchan and Strauss-Cohn said that working through the controversy ultimately made the relationship between their two congregations stronger.
"Relationships are built over time," Strauss-Cohn said, "so when a crisis happens you can deal with it."
What happened between the two congregations, the rabbi said, meant that all of the nice gestures they had made earlier, such as babysitting and picnicking, had a more serious intent.
"Any dialogue that goes on between two groups is all nice and comfy until you hit conflict," McCutchan said. "Relationships are deepened if you handle crises properly as they arise."
• Mary Giunca can be reached at 727-4089 or at email@example.com.