Rabbi Michael Beals finds his calling as “a servant of God” often takes him outside Wilmington’s Congregation Beth Shalom. To pray at shooting locations, stop “the revolving door into and out of prison, help kids at risk, help “alliances between cultures to deal with the problems at hand,” encourage houses of worship to be resources in coping after disasters, and nurture “a culture of peace, warmth and light … in times of darkness and trouble.” For Beals, the 54-year-old chair of the Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships, that also can mean standing on a street corner at 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., just waving and smiling at schoolchildren passing by.
Former Gov. Jack Markell created the council and tasked it to address recidivism, disaster preparedness, after-school care and foster care awareness. Beals said members added interfaith education, which turns out to be “what we do best.” All these goals are under the umbrella of intercultural understanding and cooperation, an especially critical issue of late. “Given the multiple bomb threats against the JCC, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, burning down of mosques, we desperately need more interfaith cooperation. I also love diversity, and I believe I see the image of God in all the diversity I encounter.”
He is partnering with multiple groups to make Wilmington a better place. “I work with children at the Early Education Center at the JCC, at our own synagogue Hebrew School, at the Albert Einstein Jewish Day School, mentoring inner city school kids at Warner Elementary, and more recently at St. Mary Magdalen School with Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly. I also work with homeless children at Family Promise in collaboration with Hanover Presbyterian and Peninsula McCabe United Methodist Church. I’m also working with Hanover and Westminster Presbyterian in resettling refugees —we were assigned an Afghani family. We also work with the Islamic Society of Delaware and Westminster Presbyterian with teen interfaith work.”
Governor-appointed members of the council also represent Wilmington University, the Ursuline Sisters, the Hindu Temple of Delaware, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, United Way of Delaware, All Saints’ Episcopal Church & St. George’s Chapel, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist Society of Southern Delaware and Delaware Interfaith Power and Light.
Beals has two responses for why he became a rabbi. “First, when I was 29 I overheard my parents worrying about the future of the Jewish people given the large level of intermarriage and assimilation among their own friends and their kids. I know that I love God and the Jewish people, and I thought I could make a difference. Second, I realized the job of a congregational rabbi would allow me to do everything I love to do: writing, public speaking, playing the guitar, visiting the sick, assisting people with life cycle moments—from births of children through bar and bat mitzvahs through wedding and funerals. Above all, I get to help people, which is what I love doing best of all.”