This year's First Night service on December 31 at the historic Seamen's Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill centers around the turmoil in the Middle East. It is titled "Unity Within Diversity – It Begins With Us."

On Townsquare Sunday this week, we spoke with three people of faith taking part in that service: Rev. Sandra Whitley, Pastor of the Bethel AME Church in New Bedford; Rabbi Raphael Kanter of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue of New Bedford; and Martin Bentz, Outreach Coordinator of the Islamic Society of Southeastern Massachusetts.

All three are praying for an end to war in the Middle East, and looking for ways to bring people together at home.

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Rabbi Kanter was most outspoken about the war.

"It is a bloodbath," he said.

While committing fully to Israel's defense of the Jewish State, Kanter said he makes a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people.

"Everyone has different beliefs and I refuse to lump people together," he said.

Rabbi Kanter is praying that the war comes to an end as soon as possible, but he added that "no one's hands are clean in this moment."

Rev. Whitley was asked about her message for New Year's Eve.

"After the war broke out, I reached out to my brothers, Martin Bentz and Rabbi Kanter, and for me this was the beginning of a conversation," Rev. Whitley said. "My faith, as a Christian, teaches me that the way to bring about unity is love. Love for your neighbor, and love for your God."

Bentz said his message will come from teachings in the Koran.

"The message from the Koran is very clear; though we may look different and belong to different tribes, we are all God's children, and we should know each other not in hatred, but in brotherhood," he said.

The public is welcome to attend the First Night Service at the Seamen's Bethel, December 31 at 5 p.m.

Townsquare Sunday is a weekly community service program heard Sundays on WBSM.

The program highlights individuals and organizations seeking to make the SouthCoast a better place to live and work.

If you would like your organization featured on Townsquare Sunday, please e-mail the host at

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