Sri Ramakrishna’s cryptic phrase, “As many faiths, so many paths” (Bengali, যত মত, তত পথ) is often cited to affirm that all religions are true and valid paths to reach life’s ultimate goal. The word, মত, refers not specifically to “faith” but to “way of thinking” (which a “faith” generally provides). What Sri Ramakrishna was saying in effect is that every way of thinking is a pathway to understanding or to knowledge.
This needs some qualification, of course. It is difficult to imagine every wayward and random thought leading to any sort of profound knowledge. Only the way of thinking that (1) is backed up by an authentic source (śruti), (2) does not contradict reason (yukti), and (3) can be verified by direct experience (anubhūti) becomes a pathway to knowledge.
Affirming that all religions are valid paths does not imply that every religion is a unified single path. No religion is monolithic, that is, in no religion does everyone think alike or do things in the same way. Over the course of centuries, most of the world’s religions have developed varied ways of thinking within their own traditions, hence the presence of many sects, denominations and theologies; hence also robust debates and disagreements within every religious tradition. Every world religion is better imagined as a network of crisscrossing pathways which are distinct but never stray too far from one another—and may look like a single highway from 30,000 feet high.
Although Vedanta is often spoken of in the singular, there are many different schools of thought within Vedanta, every one of which identifies itself as Vedanta. The three major divisions are nondualism (advaita), qualified nondualism (viśiṣṭādvaita), and dualism (dvaita). Every one of these has its own subdivisions. The more you dig, the more intricate and nuanced the variations become.
What set apart these pathways in Vedanta are the differences among them, sometimes very subtle, in the way they conceive of the embodied self (jīva), the transcendent reality (brahman), and the world (jagat). The world phenomenon (saṁsāra, literally, “that which is constantly changing”) can be viewed through different lenses. Each view provides new insights and new ways to understand ourselves, the purpose of life, and how to achieve it. These different lenses are, in other words, frameworks for easy understanding. Each presents a worldview, a kind of window, through which we can look out at the canvas of life.
It is possible to look at the world around and see it as a Cosmic Mystery (māyā) or as a Cosmic Person (virāṭ) or as a Cosmic Sacrifice (yajña) or as a Cosmic Union (yoga) or as a Cosmic Play (līlā)—at least five different windows through which to look out and make sense of what we see. Not all of these windows may resonate with everyone and they don’t have to. Perhaps one way of thinking may make more sense to someone than other ways of thinking about the same thing.
Whichever of these ways rings true for me (and this can be quite subjective), it ends up becoming my worldview. It makes my life meaningful and purposeful. It is helpful to recognize that a different way of thinking may be equally meaningful to someone else. The ways of thinking are many, but what is thought of is one and the same.
We are free to move from window to another, enjoying the gamut of views, but over time, we may find ourselves spending more time near one window and eventually moving our desk next to it—that window, then, becomes special for us, our personal favorite!
It is important to keep in mind that each of these windows is only a means to understanding saṁsāra and the way to get out of it. As Sri Ramakrishna said:
“God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole.” (Gospel, 111)
Every way of reaching the roof is distinct but, no matter which way we choose, the end result is the same. In precisely the same way, each of the five “windows” that provides a way of thinking about the world is distinct, but no matter through which window we see, the end result is the same—namely, a framework that helps us understand the interrelationships between the individual, the world, and the divine reality that pervades and transcends them both. Every framework suggests practices, or the kind of “stairs,” which help us “reach the roof.”
We cannot of course reach the roof if we insist on taking one step on the stone stairs, the next on the wooden stairs, and then on bamboo steps. That won’t work. The stairs are different and distinct. Hence we cannot combine concepts associated with one window with those in another, or search for ways to “reconcile” one with the other. These efforts serve no useful purpose. They only result in confusion and frustration. We cannot simultaneously look through two windows which are far apart.
It’s not the windows that matter but the view they provide, the Truth they reveal. That Truth is one, no matter which window we look through.
This article is from 2021 in the Holliston Reporter. Written by Susan Manning, it shares the work of the Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project in the community, and the extraordinary value to our interfaith relationships and solidarity.
Twelve members of faith organizations in MetroWest, including Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Holliston, work on a regular basis to make their communities more inclusive. They called it the MetroWest Interfaith Dialogue Project (MIDP).
According to Fr. Carl Chudy, Interfaith Outreach Coordinator for Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, recognizing the diversity in communities is important.
“Our hope is to the honor the religious and nonreligious diversity of our communities and neighborhoods by creating an interfaith community within communities of different faiths. We focus on three goals: Foster opportunities to come together in order to come to know one another and the faiths that inspire us; Gain insight on how much we share in common through our faiths and values; Discover how interfaith dialogue and action can make a difference in our communities and neighborhoods and helps us all flourish together,” he said.
So how did this group come together? Chudy said some of it had already been happening when the more formal project came together in 2017.
“The MIDP began in 2017, building on interfaith and ecumenical activity already begun by Rev. Bonnie Steinroeder (First Congregational Church), Rev. Mark Peterson (Christ the King Lutheran Church), Rev. Sarah Robbins-Cole (St. Michael’s Episcopal Church), Rabbis Jennifer Rudin (Simcha-Services) and Moshe Givental (former Rabbi of Temple Beth Torah) and me, in various town activities.
“My full-time work is Interfaith Outreach Coordinator for Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Holliston, and I began enlisting others to join us in a wider interfaith approach, including Mynuddin Syed from the Islamic Community in Framingham, and Shaheen Akhtar from the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, in specific activities that attempts to invite Jewish, Christian, and Muslim neighbors to see how we can all flourish together,” he said.
The present dialogue team covers a wider religious and nonreligious approach to interfaith dialogue and collaboration. They include Bert Cote (First Congregational Church), Rev. Mark Peterson (Christ the King Lutheran Church), Rev. Sarah Robbins-Cole (St. Michael Episcopal Church), Hussam Syed (Islamic Society of Framingham), Siri Karm Singh Khalsa (Sikh Community of Millis), Kristal Corona (Conflict Resolution Specialist), Chris Brumbach (Temple Beth Torah), Rabbi Jennifer Rudin (Simcha-Services), Rabbi Mimi Micner (Temple Beth Torah), Swami Tyagananda (Vedanta Society of Boston (Hindu)), Warren Chamberlain (Bahai Community) and Chudy.
The groups hold various gatherings, although the pandemic put a wrench in the in-person events this past year. Chudy said the first event was a two-day interfaith event that began at Temple Beth Torah and finished at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine. It was themed: Loving and Listening: Honoring our Diversity as Multifaith Neighbors.
“Providentially, our first encounter together at Temple Beth Torah was the very day of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, October 27, 2018, where an anti-Semitic attack killed eleven people and injured six,” said Chudy.
The group has also held book reads in person and online on forgiveness and systemic racism, interfaith scripture studies, and special forums to look at issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
“In light of shootings in mosques and synagogues elsewhere, we published declarations of solidarity, (found here: (www.hollistoninterfaith.org/building-bridges-blog/in-solidarity-with-our-muslim-neighbors-in-this-time-of-tragedy),” he said.
Chudy said the division in this country is the exact reason the MIDP is needed.
“These divided times impel us to act together based on our common ground as peoples of different faiths and those who are nonreligious. We also strive to explore our differences and the values that hold all of us accountable to each other,” he said.
For more information, visit hollistoninterfaith.org or email email@example.com.
Religious leaders and congregants from different faith communities around the MetroWest area formed in 2017 the Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project. We attempt to bring together members of our congregations and communities and the larger public in the interfaith dialogue of life, religious experience, justice, theology, and spirituality. As religious leaders and advocates, we seek to foster the truth of our oneness as a humanity, as well as provide space for holding our differences together with reverence.
One way we do this is by bringing the power of our collective interfaith voice to bear on the issues facing the larger communities in which we serve. In December 2022 we began plans to gather volunteers from our different faith communities. They include our Muslim friends from Peace Islands Institute, The NEFAJ Islamic Center in Milford, Temple Beth Torah, The Vedanta Society of Boston (Hindu), Guru Ram Das Ashram and Gurdwara (Sikh), Baha'i, and our Protestant and Catholic neighbors.
Since December 2012, 28 people from various religious communities and elsewhere joined us to help outfit apartments for incoming Ukrainian refugees in collaboration with Jewish Family Services, and to help create a new home for Ukrainians fleeing war. Susan Nolan, Rabbi Mimi Micner, and Fr. Carl Chudy of our interfaith network coordinates the committee and the work they do. Committee members offer their gifts and enthusiasm as we gathered to get to know one another and to begin to organize ourselves. We were not sure when the first family would come but hoped to build up a furniture and housewares inventory so we would be ready when they were able to arrive.
A number of our members fundraised in their own religious communities, soliciting donations for gift cards, and other items. Other volunteered to pick up furniture and houseware donations, as well as purchase necessary items themselves. The enthusiasm of all was truly inspiring. As we worked to prepare ourselves, we waited for our first family to arrive. Finally, in April, we received news that a young couple, without children, would arrive in the beginning of May 2023. We had friends from the Muslim communities of Peace Islands Institute, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Our Lady of Family Shrine, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Temple Beth Torah, and the Baha'i community.
We had youth from St. Michael's Episcopal Church come and clean some of the furniture we were storing for refugee families. Others came to hand pick what furniture would be taken to the new apartment, and another group who rented a U Haul truck and carry it to the apartment in Framingham. Through every step of the way, our liaison from Jewish Family Services, Sarah Leacu, would assist us with resources and the information we needed to do the work. Carrying in furniture, installing cable television for the first time, putting together the bed, gathering tables, lamps, and chairs. We had another group who did initial food shopping, providing sets of dishes and pots and pans, utensils and other items for the kitchen and bathroom.
On the evening of Monday, May 8, Juliia arrived from the airport, lost luggage and tired, to see her new home. Her case worker and others would continue to assist her with many things beyond that evening. But, for the first time, arriving at her new home, she came into the apartment overwhelmed and happy. She embraced both Susan and I and thanked us for all our friends did for her. Rabbi Mimi, made a delicious lasagna for her first meal in her home. Susan and I left that evening tired, happy, and talking of our next housing project for a new refugee family.
Interfaith literacy not only provides opportunities to learn of the depth of other faiths through our friendships, but also helps us to understand the extraordinary diversity within anyone of our religious traditions.
Rabbi Mimi Micner, one of our dialogue partners from Temple Beth Torah, provided such a lesson to me. Prior to the start of Passover, she asked me to buy the temple's "chametz" in preparation of Passover. I said, "Sure, what's that?"
Rabbi Mimi related that the Torah and Rabbinical teaching speak of the need to get rid of all foods that use grain, or suspected foods that do. On the holiday of Passover, the Torach says we are not to have any chametz in our possession (Exodus 12:19 and 13:7). Any food that is made out of grain that has been allowed to rise (ferment) is chametz. Common chametz items include bread, cakes, breakfast cereals, pastas, many liquors and more. This also applies to chametz that is locked up and out of sight.
The Talmud, commenting on the Torah, begins a conversation about the laws around removing chametz from one's home and from there, the medieval-era drafters of Jewish law took the conversation of the Talmud and ruled that Jews would be able to remove chametz from their home through selling their chametz to people who are not Jewish and then get it back at the end of the holiday.
Close to the eve of Passover, Rabbi Mimi and I met and read together a formal agreement for the selling of chametz. In this agreement, I not only agreed to buy her chametz, but Rabbi Mimi has the authority to sell on a special list, Harsha'ah, the chametz of others. In the ritual of the signing of this agreement, it is sealed not only with signatures, but also by means of kinyan sudar, by means of a handshake and the ritual lifting of the pen together that we both use to sign the document. Here our agreement is binding until her return also through the purchase price of one dollar, by way of Vemno of course.
What seems like simple rituals for Passover, is something that connects Jews to their past and the Word of God that binds them together. As a Catholic priest, we are indebted to our Jewish neighbors and the gift of Judaism that is at the heart of so much of what we Christians treasure. The late Pope John Paul II once called our Jewish friends, our "elder brothers and sisters in faith."
he author, Dorothy Buck is the USA coordinator for the Badilya Prayer Movement. Badaliya is an Arabic word that means to take the place of or substitute for another. It is a spiritual term that lies at the heart of the Christian faith experience and refers to the mystery of the image of God as Jesus sacrificing his life for all of humanity. To be a follower of Christ is to offer oneself out of love for the well-being of others.
Louis Massignon and Mary Kahil established the Badaliya prayer group in Cairo in 1934. At that time Christians in Egypt were increasingly marginalized as Islam became the dominant religion in the region. The Badaliya was a way to open themselves to befriending and praying with and for their Muslim neighbors. It embraced Massignon’s own understanding that by learning the language and experiencing the traditions and culture of those of other religions our own faith life is enhanced. The Badaliya prayer was a testimony to the universal love of Christ. A Badaliya prayer group formed in Paris joining the one in Cairo, and eventually Badaliya prayer groups arose in many other cities around the world. They met monthly and many individual lay persons and members of religious communities joined this prayer movement in spirit as well. For more information, see the article “A Model of Hope: Louis Massignon’s Badaliya”.
In 2003 the Badaliya prayer movement was re-created in the United States. Letters are sent via email to members gathering in Boston and Washington, DC as well as a growing list of people praying in solidarity around the U.S. and in other countries. The following monthly letters include inspirational material for the prayer and invitations to the gatherings.
Today Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday, often referred to as Passion Sunday. We are coming to the end of a six-week Lenten journey of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving that invited us to step into the ancient land of Galilee and journey with Jesus as his disciples on the way to Jerusalem. We have gone with Jesus into the desert, been tempted by our hunger, as he was after forty days of fasting, to turn the stones into bread, and listened to his response to the tempter, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. We have found ourselves atop a parapet of the Temple being challenged as Jesus as if he is indeed the Son of God, to throw ourselves down with him and trust the angels to prevent him from harm, to which he quotes the Book of Deuteronomy with “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God.” And finally we are there with him on the mountain overlooking “all the kingdoms of the world” that Jesus is promised if he bows down to this one called, Satan. We recognize that all-too-tempting desire for wealth and power over earthly kingdoms that has enticed so many to this day and we cling to Jesus’ response, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
If we have taken the journey seriously, we have walked with Jesus throughout the villages in Galilee and witnessed the healing power of Divine Love healing the deaf, the blind, the lepers, and welcoming the outcasts, the prostitutes, and tax collectors. We have even gone with Peter, James, and John up Mt. Tabor and experienced a glimpse of a transfigured Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah only to redescend into the desert to continue the journey to Jerusalem, hardly willing to hear the many times he warns us that the Son of Man will be arrested by the Scribes and Pharisees, turned over to the Roman authorities, condemned and scourged and crucified as a common criminal.
On this Palm Sunday, we wave our palms with the crowds as they shout hosannas around this popular Rabbi/teacher called Jesus as he descends from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem mounted on a lowly beast of burden to celebrate the Feast of Passover with his disciples. And we hear with fear and trembling the story of what lies ahead in this week we call Holy.
This year, in the midst of this spiritual and physical journey for those of us, baptized into the Life of Christ, our Muslim friends have begun their own spiritual journey of Ramadan. As in our Christian six weeks of Lent, the Ramadan fast and dedication to prayer and almsgiving has many lessons for Muslim believers. The self-discipline required to get through a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset every day is challenging yet carries within it vital life lessons. Meant to be undertaken in order to focus our attention on Allah, God alone, fasting and feeling hunger and thirst is a means to overcoming the habits that enslave us rather than experiencing ourselves as first and foremost believers in Allah. At the same time, it reminds us of those who fast out of no choice of their own due to poverty, displacement due to war and violence or devastating natural events like the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria leaving millions homeless. Out of fasting comes compassion and empathy for those in need which leads to charity, kindness, and generosity.
It was in Medina, in the second year of the Hijrah, the migration of the followers of the Prophet to Medina from Mecca, that the Ramadan fast and the struggle to overcome the many temptations that can lead us astray as humans were established. The struggle against temptations to evil in ourselves, in our society and in the world is called Jihad.
Through daily prayers and reading and reflecting on passages from the Qur’an, our devotional life is renewed and deepened. It was in this month that while fasting and praying the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation that became the Qur’an. Both fasting and prayer are a means to open one’s heart to the ability to hear the holy words of God and allow them to shape how we live our lives individually and in the community. Identifying with the larger worldwide Muslim community, called the Ummah, strengthens our faith and the values of goodness, moral life, and a deeper sense of the Divine in our lives and in the world.
Zakat is the word for almsgiving. The sharing of the breaking of the fast, or Iftar, with friends and family every evening is community building as well as an offering of help to those in need. Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi summarizes the moral and spiritual gifts of Ramadan as “Taqwa, the sum total of Islamic life. It is the highest of all virtues in the Islamic scheme of things. It means God-consciousness, piety, fear and awe of Allah and total commitment to all that is good and rejection of all that is evil and bad.”
Ramadan is not only a time for fasting and struggle but is also a time of thanksgiving to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe for the gift of life, and all of creation.
The lessons of Lent have led Christians into this Holy Week to experience the dramatic events that have taught thousands of years of Christians about how power structures are threatened by the prophetic voices calling for transformation, social justice, all-inclusive love, and equity and have sacrificed their lives that others may live. By fully experiencing this Holy Week, and by our Muslim friends fully experiencing this month of Ramadan, both faith communities will also learn that Divine Love always has the last word.
Fasting in Ramadan: Lessons & Moralities by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi Islamonline.net
For all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands See www.dcbuck.com
January 18-25, 2023, is the yearly celebration and awareness-building opportunity of The Week of Christian Unity. The World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Joint Commission on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have shared with Graymoor the Scriptural Theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023. The theme is from Isaiah 1:17, “Do good; seek justice.” The entire scriptural passage for the theme is Isaiah 1:12-18, lamenting a lack of justice among the People of God. Yet, it also promises redemption by encouraging acts of justice.
Reverend Bonnie Steinroeder is a dear friend and dialogue partner with whom we have worked together for some years. She graciously accepted to share her own tradition and insight into the crucial work of ecumenism.
On June 25, 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, committed to “liberty of conscience inherent in the Gospel,” and the Congregational Christian Churches, a fellowship of biblical people under a mutual covenant for responsible freedom in Christ, joined together as the United Church of Christ (UCC). Since its inception, the UCC has sought to bring together those who wish to accept the joy and cost of discipleship with an emphasis on social justice and God’s extravagant welcome for all. The motto of the UCC is taken from John 17, “that they may all be one” which reflects the church’s desire to seek out common ground among all Christians.
The UCC is non-creedal and congregational in polity. This means that each congregation decides for itself how it will operate and that there is no appointed authority figure who can mandate what any congregation must do or believe. The UCC is, however, bound in the covenant. Members of a congregation live in covenant to care for and help one another and congregations within the UCC belong to an association of churches that hold one another accountable in matters of faith. In practice, the openness of the UCC lends itself to an inclusive model for Christian unity. Because there is no doctrine that one must adhere to in order to join, one will find a wide range of beliefs among church members.
As the pastor of a UCC congregation in Massachusetts, I am often asked how this diversity of beliefs functions within the denomination. Is it truly the case that any belief is accepted and does this promote unity or division? In my own church, I find that unity is best achieved when there is mutual respect for differing views. We are tied together through the love of Jesus but there is freedom for each person to interpret this ancient faith and the responsibility to make faith relevant for living in today’s world. This does not mean that there is never disagreement, but we strive to find consensus in the midst of disagreement in order to be faithful to our mutual covenant with God and one another.
The United Church of Christ is a relatively young denomination. It’s roots are ecumenical and that can very much be seen in the makeup of our congregations today. Our members come from many faith traditions and in general, are attracted to the liberal theology and welcoming nature of our churches. For us, Christian unity does mean that we all need to think alike but rather live out the commandment of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves and to recognize and affirm all as beloved Children of God.
Check out resources for this inspiring week at Greymoore Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute.
Tabernacle at Temple Beth Torah where God's Word is housed at Temple Beth Torah, Holliston, MA
Reverend Bonnie Steinroeder, pastor of First Congregational Church in Holliston, Massachusetts, and I were recently invited to evening prayer services with our Jewish neighbors and friends at Temple Beth Torah for Yom Kippur. Our friendships were forged through close connections between the Christian churches in town and the local synagogue some years ago. Additionally, our interfaith dialogue project called the Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project began with these important relationships and widened the circle to include nearby faith leaders from other religious traditions including communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Bahai, Muslims, and the Spiritual but not Religious (SBNR).
As a Christian that draws deeply from our Judaic roots, where the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are received as one whole letter of love from God, the rhythm and cadence of the evening prayer of Yom Kippur resonated profoundly within me. As we walked into the prayer space with warm greetings from Rabbi Mimi Micner and members of the community, we began our prayer with Kol Nidrei.
Rabbi Mimi and the Cantor wore white albs with their Tallitot or prayer shawls draped over them in what I perceived as anticipation of atonement and renewal for the whole congregation. I thought the declaration of Kol Nidrei to renounce past oaths to God was odd. But other commentators address this issue by saying that Kol Nidrei, in actuality, emphasizes the importance of keeping one’s word and reaffirms our belief in honoring our commitments. Numbers 15:26 is recited: “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are at fault.” How appropriate, as we enter a day when we will be saying over and over how we plan to change and do teshuvah, our return to God.
As a gentile Catholic interfaith leader, I found as I stood with my Jewish neighbors, my own need to be forgiven by God, along with theirs, and how our healing is so inextricably tied together. Not just on a personal level, but in our interfaith ties and the ties we all share with humanity and the earth. Christianity’s history is darkly blemished by antisemitism, often citing our sacred texts for its justification. The Middle Ages saw the persecution of Jews following the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century by the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s saw improvements in the relationship following a repudiation of the Jewish deicide accusations and addressed the topic of antisemitism for the first time. Atonement can lead to new ways in our relationships.
During the Shema on Yom Kippur, the second line, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto LeOlam Va’ed, “Blessed is the Name of His Glorious Kingdom for all eternity” is read aloud. Moses originally heard this line from the angels when he was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God. Though normally said quietly, on Yom Kippur it is said out loud. Normally, one dares not utter angelic phrases loudly, but on Yom Kippur, it is as if we are all spiritually raised to the level of angels, and we say the verse out loud. Courage is required!
The Shema recounts the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy and the prayer that reverberates throughout other religious traditions, including Islam. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children…” We all hold this enduring behest as Christians who also account for these same words through the lips of Jesus, with the addition from Leviticus, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Intergenerationally, across one hundred and twenty-six nations, through thousands of languages, through art, sacred texts, and enshrined in our secular cultures such as the Bill of Human Rights, we hold together, this all-encompassing command, perhaps even a plea. Listen to God, to each other, to the earth, to the cries of injustice, and to our need to celebrate our common humanity. Together we are a parable of God’s miracle each and every day if we choose to see each other as such. Our rich diversity of religious paths, each one a “sacrament” of God, profoundly shows that our religious diversity belies one interfaith voice, and the power of love that voice carries in a way our individual traditions cannot.
The Contemporary Burden of Antisemitism
There were other rich experiences in this evening’s prayer of Yom Kippur, but my attention was captured by the sermon of Rabbi Mimi and the burden of antisemitism. She spoke about how she often felt, in her younger days, that her Jewish community was alone, withstanding centuries of persecution without support or friends. It reminded me of the recent PBS film by Ken Burns and his collaborators, The US and the Holocaust. At best, this three-part series is profoundly disturbing in its truth of antisemitism, which was not only the product of Nazi politics but was also shored up by the unseen hand of Jewish prejudice outside of Europe, including the United States.
As the program notes explain, this project “examines America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the twentieth century. Americans consider themselves a “nation of immigrants,” but as the catastrophe of the Holocaust unfolded in Europe, the United States proved unwilling to open its doors to more than a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of desperate people seeking refuge. Through riveting firsthand testimony of witnesses and survivors who as children endured persecution, violence, and flight as their families tried to escape Hitler, this series delves deeply into the tragic human consequences of public indifference, bureaucratic red tape, and restrictive quota laws in America.”
Antisemitism in the US existed since colonial times and continued in various forms. Fundamentally, as the country evolved and became more diverse culturally and religiously, responses to this pluralism provoked isolationism and entrenched racism. The “Great Replacement” theme was stressed by highlighting the supposed threat of Jews and other immigrants replacing Native Americans. Antisemitic activists in the 1920s and 1930s were led by Henry Ford and other figures like William Dudley Pelley, Charles Coughlin, and Gerald L. K. Smith, as well as the Ku Klux Klan. They promulgated various interrelated conspiracy theories that widely spread the fear that Jews were working for the destruction or replacement of white Americans and Christianity in the U.S.
The roots of the “Great Replacement” endures today in white nationalism, populism, and nativism. Although we moved from our image of a country as Anglo-Saxon to Judeo-Christian (Today how do we include all of the others outside Judaism and Christianity?), there is much to do yet. On October 27, 2018, the very first time we gathered as an interfaith community in this same synagogue, another mass shooting took place at the Tree of Life, or L ‘Simcha Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Protesting a Jewish immigrant service that provides humanitarian relief to refugees, Bower said on social media, “They like to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Eleven people were killed, and six people were wounded.
Jewish Communities and Their Allies
Rabbi Mimi went on to say how her mindset that Jews were alone in the world was not quite as accurate as she thought. She discovered stories of non-Jews who put themselves at great risk to hide and rescue her people running from Nazi persecution. It was palpable for her, connecting her to her family in those very days. She underlined that the Jewish community today cannot engage with antisemitism alone and that allies were crucial, what I see as the power of #oneinterfaithvoice. She recounted in our town where Rev. Bonnie and I collaborated to have Nazi war memorabilia removed from a local antique shop. She emphasized in our little town and everywhere else, how our one interfaith voice is crucial to creating inclusive communities in a world with pronounced divisions of antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism at their core.
Our evening prayer of Yom Kippur raises up our common oaths to God, and thus to each other, in vivid expectation of what our communities could be like if only we “listen” to the God who speaks to all of humanity in extraordinary ways. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. In our Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project, we are learning how to listen, act and renew our covenant with God and with each other. In my own Christian faith, it is about seeing each other as God sees us, and imagining a world together that are like icons, views of the dreams of God.
The Berkley Center’s 2008 Undergraduate Fellows Program provided a select group of ten Georgetown undergraduate students with the resources to study
interreligious marriages in America. Starting in January 2008, the Fellows elected project managers and defined specific roles and responsibilities within the team. They met bi-weekly throughout the year to discuss the developments and progress of their research and analysis. They interviewed forty-five different couples focusing on the challenges and benefits that arise within interreligious marriage on a personal level to provide qualitative insights to this growing area of research. he interviews were divided into four religious' combinations: Jewish–Christian, Muslim–Christian, Hindu–Christian, and Buddhist–Christian. With directing and editing assistance from Dean Chester Gillis, the director of the Program on the Church and Interreligious Dialogue; Erika B. Seamon, a Ph.D. student in Religious Pluralism; and Melody Fox Ahmed, Program Manager at the Berkley Center, the Fellows developed the following report. the Fellows hope to provide insight into the lives of people that practice religious tolerance daily and hope that these findings will not only provide further information about the challenges and benefits of interreligious marriage but will also offer a micro-level view of religious tolerance that can be a model of global dynamics.
By Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing, Secular Student Alliance
Lori Fazzino, a non-religious friend of mine and sociology professor, shared this article in a package for secular students going back to college this fall. It has all kinds of possibilities for us in interfaith dialogue, from the perspective of the nonreligious.
“Interfaith” has become a major priority on many campuses. Organizations are springing up to promote it, colleges and universities are embracing it, even the White House is reaching out to get involved. But there’s still plenty of confusion out there as to what interfaith is, and even more confusion from the nontheistic perspective.
In October 2010, I attended an Interfaith Leadership Institute hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) as a “campus ally.” This opportunity to participate in a two-day interfaith program helped me to understand exactly what this movement is and how we, as people with secular worldviews, fit into it.
Interfaith is a rising trend, particularly on college campuses. It brings together individuals of differing worldviews (not just religious or theistic) to set aside
their differences in order to accomplish shared goals. In many ways, the interfaith movement is tapping into people’s religious traditions to get them involved in activities that look a lot like real, secular pluralism. There are a lot of misconceptions about what interfaith programs are and are not. In the experiences I’ve had, interfaith is often an effort toward pluralism, setting aside our differences and trying to understand one another. It’s an effort to bring people together for social action or service projects.
We can also make a list of what interfaith is not. Interfaith is absolutely not an opportunity for anyone to proselytize one another - from one religion to
another, religious to nonreligious, or nonreligious to religious. And while we may set aside our differences, interfaith isn’t trying to pretend that we don’t have differences. It is not an effort to give religion a special place in society or on campus, nor is it an effort to make everyone the same. As nonbelievers, getting involved in interfaith has some awesome features. It’s a great opportunity for large-scale service projects, and it can help make nontheists more visible. It’s a chance to demonstrate that we can be “good without God.” On campus, interfaith programs can mean opportunities for representation or access to special funding or facilities. Last but not least, participation in interfaith programs can build relationships that help facilitate times when conflict does arise.
But as with anything, there are some downsides. It can be hard for a brazen nontheist to set aside the need to question and challenge religion. Because of the
name “interfaith,” outsiders might think that atheism is just another religion. Some interfaith programs aren’t as welcoming to nontheists as others, and sometimes they may require limiting or uncomfortable “mutual respect” agreements. Sometimes these are challenges to overcome and opportunities to educate our communities about nontheism; other times, there may be reasons to decline participation in an interfaith program. Every nontheist and every group is different and will have to decide based on their own circumstances whether interfaith participation is right for them. Despite these drawbacks, I still encourage nontheists to participate in interfaith programs.
Be prepared, though, because certain situations are very likely to come up. Language is the biggest area to be prepared for. Interfaith programs are still figuring out that “people of all religions” doesn’t cover everyone, and sometimes you’ll hear people using words like “spirituality.” Generally speaking, take it in the spirit it was meant most of the time, language like this is a result of people and programs working to establish new ways of discussing a variety of worldviews and identities, and it is not meant to exclude or insult anyone.
Likewise, it’s very common to encounter misconceptions and stereotypes about nonbelievers. Sometimes a group may face outright discrimination from an interfaith program. These situations can be handled through preparation and patience - and admittedly these problems aren’t limited to the realm of interfaith. With theists and nontheists both working to reach out to one another, we can’t help but make a difference in the world. And that’s something to get excited about!
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Ten years ago today, on August 5, 2012, 17-year-old Harmeet Kaur Kamboj had just graduated high school and was in a bus full of family and relatives driving to Michigan from Virginia for their cousin’s wedding. There was an air of merriment all around the bus, people dancing, singing, and laughing, while some took a nap in anticipation of the long festive weekend that lay ahead. Kamboj remembers an aunt who was scrolling on her phone and broke the news to the wedding party: there had been a mass shooting at a gurdwara – the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin – where a white supremacist had open fired and killed six people. A seventh victim suffered serious injuries and would die from their wounds in 2020.
“It was hard to process at that moment. We were headed to this festive fun-filled event to celebrate new relationships that were being built, and at the same time we were having to hold all that pain too,” Kamboj says. “I was experiencing a whole new opposing set of emotions, and it took me a few days individually to process exactly what had happened.”
In the days following the shooting, Kamboj recalls the frustration they felt watching the news coverage of the shooting and felt not enough was being done to offer support to the Sikh community. Today, Kamboj is an interfaith leader who works as a program manager for Interfaith America, and they are committed to centering the voice of Sikh Americans in their work.
In commemoration of the 10-year-anniversary of the Oak Creek shooting, Kamboj has been supporting the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sikh Coalition, The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and Sikh American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to host a series of workshops, a vigil, and panel discussions. They will also be leading an interfaith bridgebuilding workshop on Saturday, August 6, at The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.
In conversation with Silma Suba, media manager and staff writer at Interfaith America Magazine, Kamboj reflects on how the Oak Creek shooting impacted their work, and the 10-year-anniversary events. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How did the Oak Creek shooting impact the work that you have done in the past decade?
Kamboj: It was a very formative experience, because I remember vividly the news coverage in the days and weeks following the shooting. I was really frustrated by it and upset by that coverage, because so much of it was not to memorialize the victims of the shooting, to understand the reason behind this tragedy, but rather, every new segment or article was kind of like a “Who are Sikhs? 101 Primer,” because a lot of Americans don’t know my community. They don’t know who we are and what we stand for. I was frustrated on a couple of levels. We were trying to mourn this loss of life and loss of community and loss of safety, and the only thing that the public is asking us is “who are you?” rather than asking “what can we do to support you? How can we make you feel like real members of this society, like true members of society?”
When I started in interfaith work, I knew that my commitment personally had to be to fronting my community’s needs and centering those who are most marginalized, who are pushed most to the fringes of the Interfaith movement and of religious spaces in the United States, because we deserved way more than that at that moment. We deserved more support, more empathy, and more resources, and we were asked at that moment, just to give more labor to education and awareness. And so that very much informed me of the work that I began doing in interfaith spaces.
Can you tell us about the interfaith workshop you’ll be leading at the 10-year-anniversary event at The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin?
A huge contingent of interfaith leaders are expected to be in attendance because the weekend’s events are co-sponsored by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
Thinking about Interfaith America’s work, especially our new work around bridgebuilding, I knew that it was going to be a significant and important way for us to contribute to the event. Because there was so much more that interfaith leaders and Interfaith organizers could have done in the immediate aftermath of Oak Creek, that wasn’t done because of so many reasons, lack of awareness, lack of resources, lack of knowledge or understanding about who this community is and what we need in these kinds of moments.
When I think about interfaith bridge building, which is the workshop I will be leading, it is about creating reciprocal and mutual relationships across lines of difference. At the end of the day, it’s about understanding that the landscape of religious diversity in the United States is not always totally understood. I think the religious landscape in the United States is underscored often, because communities like mine are, in comparison, much smaller than communities of the Abrahamic faiths and others.
So, when we talk about the importance of interfaith bridge building, part of that conversation has to be about how do we support religious minority communities, not only in the face of tragedy but overall? So, the part of that workshop is not only around how to build relationships with the perceived other, but how do we acknowledge the privilege and power that some communities have in relation to others. How do you use that privilege to empower, to really invest in and support communities that do not have access to that kind of privilege and power.
What will interfaith work look like during the 10-year-anniversary commemoration of the Oak Creek shooting?
During the Thursday series of panels at Oak Creek City Hall, there’s at least one interfaith panel on public safety and safety for religious communities that I think is really important, because, particularly in the last five years, mass shootings and houses of worship have become a frequent headline.
This is a way for interfaith leaders and communities dedicated to interfaith to come together and not only support each other but think together about ways to ensure our safety mutually.
The candlelight vigil on Friday (August 5) is going to be a powerful way for folks of many traditions to come together and share practices and theologies of mourning and grief and recovery in light of this event. And Saturday, a series of events at the gurdwara is a really intimate way for folks who are dedicated to interfaith work to really come out in support of this community. I think that oftentimes we overcomplicate how we can show up in interfaith spaces, and oftentimes, it just means showing up and participating and being physically, emotionally, mentally present. And that’s really what the Saturday series of events is all about. These are community events, workshops, tours of the gurdwara, and talks about Sikhism and the Sikh community rooted in Oak Creek. And it really is open to anyone and everyone because that sort of showing up is so important at this time.