Can a mobile app help African-American and Jewish children realize their common ground, kindred spirits and shared destiny?

The leaders of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Dahan Community School and Ashburton’s Liberty Grace Church of God certainly believe so.

“Temple X” is a joint project between Beth Tfiloh, Liberty Grace and Ashburton Elementary/Middle School. The goal of the collaboration is to aid young students who are struggling with distance-learning during the pandemic, while broadening their sense of historical, religious and cultural awareness.

And with so much attention these days focused on race relations and the Black Lives Matter movement, “the timing is perfect,” says Susan Holzman, Beth Tfiloh’s director of professional development and strategic initiatives.

Beth Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (left) and Dr. Terris A. King of Liberty Graces Church of God in Ashburton.
Beth Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (left) and Dr. Terris A. King of Liberty Graces Church of God in Ashburton. (Photo provided)

For the past couple of years, Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace have enjoyed close ties and participated in a series of spiritual, social action and cultural exchanges, largely orchestrated by the friendship of the congregations’ head spiritual leaders, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and Dr. Terris A. King Sr.

Beth Tfiloh was located in the Forest Park neighborhood at the corner of Garrison Boulevard and Fairview Avenue — only blocks away from Ashburton and Liberty Grace — from its inception in 1921 until 1966 when the modern Orthodox synagogue moved to its current Pikesville campus.

“The Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Liberty Grace Church take great pride in the relationship we have developed in recent years,” says Rabbi Wohlberg. “We have prayed together, cooked together, sung together, and were addressed by Senator Ben Cardin and the late Congressman Elijah Cummings — together!

“Now, we are raising it a notch by bringing our children together,” he says. “Through ‘Temple X,’ they are learning together. But more than learning from a textbook, they are learning from each other about each other.”

The brainchild of Dr. King’s son, Terris A. King II., an educator, “Temple X” is a project in which Beth Tfiloh and Liberty Grace students are joining forces to create an app that will offer an engaging historic walking tour of the Ashburton/Forest Park area.

The app, which will be launched later this month, will tell the story of what it was like to grow up in the neighborhood from the perspective of a white Jewish child and an African-American Christian child.   

“He was very concerned about the challenges of how young children will do distance-learning at this time,” Holzman says of Terris King II. “He was looking for ways to get kids engaged and learning and moving, especially with their multi-generational families.”

King said he came up with the idea for “Temple X” while working as a kindergarten teacher in Shanghai shortly before the pandemic and observing families using their cellphones and other instruments of technology for engagement and learning.

“Our goal is to create sustainable school options for children to access engaging content through technology,” he said. “It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun. We’re not just going back to the bricks-and-mortar approach. We need engagement and learning for the future.”

He said the name “Temple X” alludes to houses of worship that are providing experiential learning, exploration and exposure to education for students.

In virtual meetings, third, fourth and fifth grade students from Beth Tfiloh and older students from Liberty Grace and Ashburton Elementary/Middle gathered recently to discuss how to create content for the interactive app, which will receive technical assistance from Towson University.

Offering anecdotes and memories were several individuals from both congregations who lived in the Ashburton-Forest Park area in the 1950s and early 1960s, when the community was integrated.

“The goal is to have all of the kids from both communities get to know each other and imagine what life is like in a different community with different traditions,” says Holzman, noting that the youngsters also heard stories from the their congregational elders about the integration of the now-defunct Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in the summer of 1963.

Shown preparing an interfaith Shabbat feast last summer are (left to right) Cathy King of Liberty Grace with Beth Tfiloh congregants Shelley Kaye, Ayelet Steiner and Alicia Broth. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

Soon, the students — accompanied by their family members and escorted by officers of the Baltimore City Police Department as a “friendly presence” — will walk the streets of Ashburton-Forest Park to identify landmarks there for the app and to get a strong feel for the community.

While aimed at younger children, the app will be available to the general public and run around 30 minutes long, says Holzman. She says the plan is to add different tours in the future of Ashburton-Forest Park and possibly of other communities.

She says “Temple X’s” organizers hope it will serve as a model historic walking tour app for other communities throughout the country. 

“It’s been amazing experience,” says Holzman. “To watch the kids and hear the questions they ask shows that they really get it. They weren’t afraid to ask the hard questions, and to see that kind of openness among the children was such a joy.”