Biblical Brew Off Drunk with Interfaith Camaraderie

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Members of Team Jesus, Team Moses and Team Eve all together

Jesus, Moses and Eve walked into a bar — well, something like that.

On May 7, the third annual Biblical Brew Off was held at Congregation Rodeph Shalom and put Team Jesus from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church tap to tap with Team Moses of Rodeph Shalom and a new, interfaith team of women from both congregations, Team Eve, to see who could ferment the best brew.

The smell of barbecued chicken from the dinner guests enjoyed wafted into the hallway of the synagogue where a long table was set up with seven brews — all homebrewed in the facilities of the church and the synagogue with custom names and logos. There were three from Team Moses, three from Team Jesus and one from Team Eve.

More than 100 participants took their custom pint glasses with the Brew Off’s logo and sampled each beer, from a pilsner to an IPA to a porter to a saison, to see what they like.

For Rev. Kirk Berlenbach and Rabbi Eli Freedman, the Brew Off was a way to bring their congregations together and have some friendly competition — all for a good cause.

Proceeds from the event would be in support of either North Light Community Center, HIAS Pennsylvania or the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Team Jesus ultimately came out victorious — as it did the first year the Brew Off started — and the majority of the proceeds will go to North Light. However, as they won because they were based on the aggregate score, each team still “won.”

Berlenbach and Freedman have participated together in Beer Week, as well as in each other’s congregation’s events. Berlenbach even brought a garland of hops that he grew to decorate Rodeph Shalom’s sukkah one year.

“We brewed a couple of times together, tasted each other’s beer, been to a lot of each other’s events,” Berlenbach said. “This just seemed like a logical thing.”

Introducing Team Eve this year was a way to add an “X” factor into the competition and bring the women together as well.

“What’s great about brewing with people,” Freedman said, “is that it’s a chance to talk and that’s what it’s all about, that interfaith relationship. It’s about opening those lines of communication, talking about how we’re similar, how we’re different, pushing each other — it’s amazing.”

Berlenbach echoed that idea.

“There are members of St. Timothy’s that are very comfortable worshipping here and know a fair number of people at Rodeph Shalom and vice versa,” he said. “That’s what’s really cool; you start to be at home with one another and you can work together on positive things.”

Bringing people together over a beer was an easy choice, especially for Berlenbach and Freedman, who are avid beer enthusiasts themselves.

“I love meeting new people, I love bringing people together around something fun,” Berlenbach said. “For things like this, too, where you associate beer and religion, I love challenging people’s preconceptions.”

While wine might be the first drink you think of when it comes to religious relationships, beer is also significant — and easier to brew than wine, Freedman joked.

“There is that tendency to associate wine with religion because it does get associated with rituals or sacraments in both of our traditions,” Berlenbach added. “But I think there’s room to push back on that, too. And I think beer — there’s never been a better time in the history of the world to like beer than right now because it’s just growing and expanding every year.”

Beer brings people together, which was the point of the event, Freedman said.

“A beer or two — and obviously we’re all about responsible drinking here — but a beer or two does sort of help make you a little bit more gregarious; it lowers inhibitions a little bit. It’s a social lubricant,” he said. “And it helps facilitate dialogue, and that’s really what this is all about.”

The two were first introduced to each other about six years ago by Nancy Rigberg, who co-owns Home Sweet Homebrew with her husband, George Hummel.

“I thought, you know, they have an awful lot in common,” she recalled. “They’re both really gregarious, wonderful leaders of their congregations, they both had brewing teams and I thought it would be fun for them to do it and a nice way to promote interfaith harmony. And it worked.”

Rigberg, who does not belong to either congregation, although she had her Bat Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple, has been running Home Sweet Homebrew since 1986, so she knows a thing or two about home brewing.

She took her expertise to help get Team Eve off the ground this year.

She made the recipe for its brew, Summer d’Eve, which won the People’s Choice Beer honors.

“We can’t let the guys get all the glory,” she laughed. “Where would Moses and Jesus be without Eve?”

For her, although she has helped brewers from the likes of Dogfish Head, Yard’s and Iron Hill into their professional brewing careers, the Brew Off is what she is most proud of because of the community it has built with the congregations.

“You get an awful lot accomplished in terms of camaraderie and understanding over a beer,” she said.

As the brewers stood behind the table, pouring their liquid gold into participants’ glasses, they chatted with each other.

Bill Tapper, one of the brewers for Team Moses, created “NZehav IPA,” an American IPA with New Zealand hops, which was the second-highest-scoring beer. He has brewed with the congregation, of which he is a member, for a few years.

He hoped people enjoy the interfaith aspect and getting to know one another — and enjoy the beer.

“Hopefully people come out and enjoy a couple drinks, talk about the differences and commonalities between religion and have a good time,” he said.

Matthew Wander helped get the Brew Off up and running in its beginnings and said the interfaith component is his favorite, and one of the key parts of making the event a success.

“I really love the fact that we can have other groups outside the synagogue … and we can all come together over a beer,” he said.

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Wander made the pilsner on Team Moses and hopes that people are able to appreciate what they are drinking.

“We started the Biblical Brew Off so we could have a homebrew challenge and we could educate people about beer and different kinds of beers,” he said. “People can explore it and discover what they like and what’s meaningful to them.”

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