Faith is Subject of Second Annual Wagner Dialogue at John Jermain Memorial Library

Rabbi David Whiman at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. Alisha Steindecker photo.

Many might consider this summer to be, by all accounts, a tough one. An anti-immigrant gunman murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and just hours later a shooting at a bar in Dayton, Ohio left 9 people dead. Further, thousands of migrant children have been detained at the southern U.S. border and held in overcrowded detention centers, the country is in the midst of a trade war, and there are still 21 Democratic presidential candidates left in the race.

The second annual Wagner Dialogue, “Leading with Hope: Faith in Challenging Times” – to be held at Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library on Sunday, September 1 – is timely: it will provide a space for community members to hear from two congregation leaders about the role that faith and community can play in dealing with the often harsh realities of the world.

Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, will moderate a discussion with Rabbi David Whiman, an East Hampton resident, who is the Rabbi at Beth Shalom in Milan and the Rabbi Emeritus of North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, and Kimberly Quinn Johnson, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Fork and a program leader with the UU College of Social Justice.

“One of the things that we really wanted to do with this year’s dialogue was to use it as an opportunity to generate hope, to possibly provide for our patrons an opportunity to build community through some of the traditional formats such as religion,” said Catherine Creedon, director of the library. “To hear from people we might see at the post office, in the bookstore, to hear what they’re thinking about these big, really challenging topics now adays – it’s a way for us to build bridges.”

The Wagner Dialogues was established in honor of the late Paul A. Wagner, an educator and big supporter of literacy and education. The children’s room and Scholar’s Study at JJML are both named after him, and his family continues to be important supporters of the library and its programming.

“One of the things I am playing around with is the idea that the world feels very hard right now for lots of different reasons,” Reverend Johnson said in a phone interview, mentioning issues having to do with race, migration and even those surrounding the planet. “What I look to in terms of hope is that these issues are not new, this feeling of crisis is not new and the ways that we address it are not new.”

Ms. Johnson said that being connected to religion, and more specifically, a community, can be helpful during tougher times, and can allow people to “survive and endure.” Many on the East End, she said, only identify spiritually with religion.

“I understand what people mean when they say that, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we dismiss the religion part of that,” she said. “I do think being in a community of people who can help you live is what we need.”

Rabbi Whiman echoed that, acknowledging the central role that community plays in religion, and said that turning to faith specifically can be helpful during challenging times.

“There are some real challenges; we’re a little community at the end of the world here but it’s not immune from all the stresses of the larger American and global population,” Rabbi Whiman said. “When the need is greatest, you get perhaps an audience that is more open to hearing a message of reassurance and hope.”

Rabbi Whiman was quick to note that in his leadership position, he hopes he can provide encouragement and support to the community during the upcoming Wagner Dialogue – but will also look to the crowd for the same.

“It’s not just that the leader strengthens the flock so-to-speak, but the flock strengthens and reassures and recharges the leaders,” he said.

The second annual Wagner Dialogue is on Sunday, September 1 at 5:30 p.m. at John Jermain Memorial Library. Pre-registration is required; visit for more information.