With a [turkey] wing and a prayer, Malibu residents celebrate Thanksgiving

MJC&S Rabbi Judith HaLevy confers with Our Lady of Malibu Monsignor John Sheridan at the 40th Annual Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the Christian Science Church on Thursday. Mayor Ken Kearsley sits at left. Arnold G. York / TMT

After a traditional community interfaith service at one local church, volunteers head over to another to help with a meal from the homeless. Teens from local juvenile detention facility Camp Kilpatrick join in the festivities.

By Mollie Vandor/Special to The Malibu Times

Two homegrown traditions brought unity and charity to Malibu this Thanksgiving. Many residents celebrated together at the 40th Annual Community Thanksgiving Service, which took place at the First Church of Christ Scientist. More than 80 people packed the pews, representing a cross-section of Malibu residents and faiths.

Mayor Ken Kearsley read the annual Thanksgiving Presidential Proclamation and local clergy led prayers from various religions. There was also wild applause when local teenager Nina Farag sang a stirring solo rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Both attendees and clergy alike lauded the service. Rick Hopfer, a member of the First Church of Christ Scientist, explained, “This event is a good opportunity for us to give thanks.”

And many of the religious leaders who spoke praised the crowd for “showing that there is a real unity to this community,” as Rabbi Judith HaLevy said.

Rev. Bill Forsyth echoed her sentiments, saying, “I just moved back here last summer and this service and the community involved are really neat because they show that people have a lot of love for one another. Everyone I have talked to wants to see more events like this.”

After the service, local religious leaders mingled with the crowd, talking to people and gauging the general mood.

“I think people are really grateful for what they have,” HaLevy said. “People are here in Malibu as a community, feeling grateful for each other and with an awareness and respect for our privilege. It is important, especially in Malibu, for people to give thanks.”

While locals socialized on the sun-drenched patio of the church, German exchange student Stefanie Richter observed from the side of the crowd. Richter, who is staying with reverends Larry Peacock and Anne Broyles, was amazed by what she observed during her first Thanksgiving.

“I have never seen something like this in Germany,” she said excitedly. “In Germany, we are not as open to other religions. I really liked how, here, everyone comes together and no one is prejudiced against other people’s religions. In Germany this might not happen.”

Then, as if to prove her point about the harmony of the Malibu community, many of the people attending the service went immediately to volunteer at a meal for the homeless taking place at the Malibu United Methodist Church.

Organized by Malibu Jewish Center member Janet Ettenger and Malibu United Methodist Church member Diane Malecha-Welsh, the annual Thanksgiving event featured a clothing and toiletry drive, a buffet and live jazz.

“This is our seventh year holding this,” Malibu United Methodist Reverend Larry Peacock said. “We have students, adults, community people, senior citizens, just tons of people showing up to help and it is wonderful.”

Indeed, the event was flooded with volunteers, ranging from Pepperdine students to entire families of local residents.

“This is a way of helping out and giving needy people a hand and some help. The mood here is very jovial. There’s lots of smiles here,” said six-time volunteer Sheldon Lodmer, who came with his wife, daughter and cousin.

The event traditionally takes place for “the homeless, the people at the Labor Exchange, and people who come from various shelters and other areas,” Peacock said.

But this year, the traditional diners were joined by a group of teens from nearby juvenile detention center Camp Vernon Kilpatrick. Not only did the 30 teens eat, but they also played piano, performed some impromptu improvisational skits and played on the church’s playground with local children.

“People were so surprised that these kids were nice, real people,” said Susie Duff-Sellers, who teaches acting at Camp Kilpatrick and coordinated their trip to the event. The teens recently performed improv and poetry at the Malibu Stage Company, as part of a program Duff-Sellers help put together.

“Most of these guys haven’t been home for a couple of holidays now,” said Duff-Seller’s son, Jerry Wolf Duff-Sellers. “And this is really good because they get to have a real Thanksgiving.”

A local woman who insisted on being called Ruth because, she says, “I don’t know my last name,” was eating from a plate brimming with classic Thanksgiving foods, when she admitted that the event was inspiring a giving spirit in her as well.

“I have been coming here for five years and recently I started coming early to help,” she said.

“I like to come and eat, but I also started taking four or five meals and giving them to homeless people I know-it’s my satisfaction,” she smiled.

As the event wound down, many locals reflected on its benefits.

Volunteer and local middle-school student Michael Goldman felt the event was a learning experience.

“It’s weird, because in Malibu you see all the really rich houses and mansions and then here there are people that don’t even have a home,” Goldman said.

Volunteers Rosie Stutsman and Thor Visher lamented that the event only lasted for one day.

“It’s good that people are giving, but the bad thing is that they are only doing it one day a year” Visher said. “People do this and think they are so special and so caring, but this is only one day of the year,” Stutsman added. “We should do stuff like this more often.”

Ultimately though, many Malibuites found satisfaction in helping others enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The highlight of this year’s Thanksgiving,” enthused Susie Duff-Sellers with a gigantic smile, “was for me when this kid [from Camp Kilpatrick] came up to me and said, ‘Ma’am I have to tell you something,’ and I was worried that it was going to be something bad, and he said, ‘This is the best Thanksgiving I have ever had.'”