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Category: Social Justice

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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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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Israelis and Palestinians: Two Versions of a Shared Past

Learning Each Other's Historical NarrativeReaders of this blog know I believe that stories are central to our understanding of ourselves and the world. That explains why I majored in Religion rather than Philosophy in college. In my experience, the "big questions" often come down to what story or stories we think we are telling with our lives.

The tricky part is being willing to hear the stories of others, even when they are very different from our own. Religious pluralists are people who believe that the different stories of our traditions can exist amiably side-by-side; we need not make matters of faith into a zero-sum game. Brad Hirshfield, one of those pluralists, entitled his recent book, You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to be Right.

When the stories we tell involve historical events this becomes trickier still. Even more difficult is when the competing narratives about those events have implications for life and death matters in our world today. This is part of the reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains so fraught and intractable.

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