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40 Days and Nights in Jerusalem

Reverend Dr. Wil GafneyThe Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney is an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is an ordained Episcopal priest, a member of the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia and also a member of a Reconstructionist minyan, Dorshei Derekh Minyan of the Germantown Jewish Centre. Wil is a good friend and partner to the Multifaith Studies Department at RRC. Twice in the last few years, Wil co-taught with Rabbi Melissa Heller our course, Hevruta:  Jewish-Christian Encounter through Text. Recently, she left Philadelphia to spend 40 days in Jerusalem, writing and thinking, and of course, blogging.

The curious reader who checks out Wil's blog will be rewarded, not only by the thoughtful observations and stunning photography, but also by the opportunity to see the Israel/Palestine conflict through a unique perspective. As Wil herself acknowledges in her first entry, she comes to this situation, like anyone, with "baggage." Here is Wil's description of her own:

Jerusalem is important to me as a Christian, as a woman who prays in synagogue, as a person committed to inter-religious dialogue, as a woman who seeks peace on the earth in my lifetime, and as an American voter who communicates my desire for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to my elected representatives.
 

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Building Trust Makes True Engagement Possible

Tamara Cohen (RRC ’15) worked as an RRC Multifaith Intern in 2010-1l with Walking the Walk, a project of the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia that brings high school students together across religious boundaries.

Walking the WalkIt's 12:47 am. I am lying on an air mattress on a classroom floor at the Academy of Notre Dame in suburban Philadelphia. Upstairs, twenty-two teenage girls half of whom are students here at Notre Dame and half students at the nearby Barrack Hebrew Academy, are giggling together as they quiet down for the night. I have been leading this group all year and tonight they taught me what interfaith work is really all about.

Earlier in the evening, we sat around a table and passed a basket with small pieces of colored paper. On them were printed questions that the girls had come up with, questions they felt that they had not yet dared to ask one another. One by one, with respect, genuine curiosity and courage, they reached into the basket, selected a question and entered into dialogue with one another. The questions were not easy ones.

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Muslims and Jews in America: A Valuable New Resource

Muslims and Jews in AmericaThis month, Palgrave Macmillan published a wonderful new resource, Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions and Complexities, co-edited by Reza Aslan and Aaron J. Hahn Tapper. The editors have gathered an array of articles by scholars, communal professionals and activists that explore the engagement of Jews and Muslims in America. Together they provide a comprehensive review of the well publicized flashpoints of tension and conflict between Jews and Muslims and also the emerging dialogues, encounters and educational programs designed to enhance relationships. In the end, the book left me surprisingly optimistic about our communities’ prospects for a shared future.

Many of the flashpoints of recent years will be familiar to readers of this volume. Keith Ellison reminds us of the uproar in 2007 around his choosing to take his ceremonial Oath of Office with his hand on a Qur’an. Debbie Almontaser revisits the episode in 2008 that deprived her of her job as principal and New York City of its first Arabic language charter school. Omid Safi provides a careful study of the propaganda film, Obsession, and explores how in 2008 this diatribe against Muslims and Islam, disguised as a documentary, was distributed to 28 million people. And Aaron Hahn Tapper tells of the 2010 disruption of a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren by members of the Muslim Student Union, an event that was followed by pressure from Jewish organizations such as Hillel and ZOA to ensure the students were punished.

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Yona Shem-Tov: A Young Leader to Watch

Yona Shem-TovYona Shem-Tov, the newly appointed executive director of Encounter Programs brings to this position a remarkable set of experiences as a multifaith educator and activist. Last night I learned more about Yona while attending a Gala to honor the outgoing director of Encounter, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub.

Yona was educated in Toronto in a Jewish day school, so she comes to this work with a strong grounding in her own identity and tradition. At the same time, Yona has always appreciated national and cultural diversity. Her mother survived the Holocaust as a child in Europe; her father was born in Iraq and was part of the first airlift of Jews from that country to Israel in 1951.

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Valarie Kaur: A Young Leader to Watch

Valarie KaurValarie Kaur, a 2011 graduate of Yale Law School, is also an award winning documentary film maker. As the newly appointed Executive Director of a new multifaith initiative called Groundswell at Auburn, she exemplifies the young leadership that is making multifaith work so exciting today. Valarie is part of the most religiously diverse generation in American history. Coming into adulthood in "the ashes of September 11th," Valarie, like many other emerging leaders, is embracing the challenges of pluralism in remarkable new ways.

When I entered this field in the 1970's, a typical "interfaith" event included Protestants, Catholics and Jews. I remember a Jewish mentor telling me that talking to Christians was a good idea. "Tell them not to teach hateful things about Judaism and not to convert our children." Of course, there were those whose vision was greater than that, and in a future post I hope to write about the pioneers of interfaith work in America whose efforts should be honored.

But today, I want to call attention to Valarie and her generation whose spiritual drive, inclusiveness and passion for justice should hearten the most cynical soul.

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Multifaith Seder: Food, Immigrant Experience and Justice

Michael Ramberg (RRC, 2012) who is serving this year as a Multifatih Intern with the New Sanctuary Movement and Congregation Mishkan Shalom helped plan this event.

Multifaith SederLast Friday night around 130 Jews, Christians, and friends gathered at Mishkan Shalom synagogue for a pre-Pesah (Passover) multifaith seder which I helped to organize as part of my internship with Mishkan Shalom and the New Sanctuary Movement. In many ways the event resembled a traditional seder. We ate seder foods--matzah, maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish), haroset (a sweet, chunky paste, often made from apples and nuts), hardboiled eggs and parsley dipped in salt water. We asked four questions and drank four cups of wine. We sang Dayenu, and it all took a very long time--par for the course for a traditional seder.

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Bringing Jews to Church

Gateway to Religious Communities

 

 

 

Leslie Hilgeman (RRC, 2013) is spending her one year Multifaith Internship at the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia.

Here are some of her reflections:

Here’s a moment I never expected to encounter when I entered rabbinical school – inviting Jews to come to church!

This year as a rabbinic intern at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, I am coordinating a program called Gateway to Religious Communities.

Bryn Mawr Presbyterian ChurchEach Fall and Spring members of the public sign up to visit a series of congregations over a few months’ time. Most recently we visited the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, in Bryn Mawr.

At each congregation we visit, we attend a worship service. We meet with a leader before hand who explains the service, and then afterwards there’s a Q & A where we talk about what we saw and experienced. And we talk about faith.

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Religious Hatred is American Treason: Peter King Hearings and a Lesson from 1921

John Webster SpargoIn the weeks leading up to the House hearings on "the radicalization of American Muslims," anti-Muslim rhetoric continued apace in some segments of the media. At an Islamic Society of North American dinner in Arlington, Virginia last month, over 200 Muslims shared their concerns as panelists discussed the challenges facing the Muslim community. Professor Ingrid Mattson, the immediate past president of the organization, began the program by reminding the audience, "We are not alone -- our interfaith family has our back."

This is not the first time Americans of faith have stood behind a religious group singled out for suspicion. In 1921, at a time of widespread, virulent defamation of Jews, John Spargo, a lay Methodist minister, social critic and activist, said "It should not be left to men and women of the Jewish faith to fight this evil ... Anti-Semitism commands our special attention today ... but my plea is not for pro-Semitism." Rather, he opposed efforts to "divide our citizenship on religious lines." He did so out of "loyalty to American ideals." In a lecture later that year, Spargo called religious hatred "American treason." In his eyes, the "Jews' problem" was actually an American problem.

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New Perspectives - Holy Land Narratives and Politics

George Wielechowski (RRC, 2015) spent his one year Multifaith Internship helping to plan and staff a 10 day interfaith clergy trip to Israel, organized by the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.

Here are some of his reflections:

Israeli scholars and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian AuthorityOur interfaith group of more than 20 highly-accomplished and experienced rabbis, bishops, monsignors, priests, reverend doctors and the like had been studying “holy land narratives” together in an academic setting for more than four months as part of the Maryland Clergy Initiative. Yet it took only a few days together 24-7 to start talking in a new way: one in which we felt safe to question our own assumptions. Once this happened, none of us came away unchanged.

During our trip we spent time with a spectrum of leaders: Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Sharon government ; Haim Peri of Yemen Orde, two retired Israeli Army colonels, one of whom was the lead designer of and our personal guide around the Security Fence; several Knesset members; Arab priests and ministers deeply involved in social justice work; Israeli scholars and (in a private meeting, picture above left) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.

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Rabbinical Training Helps in Planning Immigrant Rights Demonstration

On November 2, 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer carried the following article:

Pro-immigrant protest hits Philadelphia City Hall

Pro-immigrant Protest - Day of the DeadCarrying cardboard coffins and wearing "Day of the Dead" masks, pro-immigrant groups led by the New Sanctuary Movement marched on Philadelphia City Hall and the District Attorney's Office on Monday, seeking to end the contracts that govern cooperation between local police and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

 

Michael Ramberg (RRC, 2012) who is serving this year as a Multifatih Intern with the New Sanctuary Movement and Congregation Mishkan Shalom helped plan the event.

Here is Michael's reflection on the demonstration: 

In rabbinical school, we are constantly working to create rituals that communicate profound content clearly yet elegantly. A recent demonstration at City Hall on behalf of Immigrants' Rights provided an opportunity to put my rabbinical training to work. When I joined the interfaith committee planning this event, the group had already decided to hold a protest to coincide with the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday at the start of November. The major elements of the protest would be delivering a petition to the District Attorney and marching around City Hall, stopping for cultural performances by immigrant groups.

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