by Larry Maloney
On the very day that a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, a group of Metrowest residents gathered at Holliston’s Temple Beth Torah for an event dedicated to promoting understanding and cooperation among people of diverse religious faiths.
Entitled “Listening and Loving: Honoring Our Diversity as Multifaith Neighbors,” the two- day event, held at the temple on Oct. 27 and Our Lady of Fatima Shrine on Oct. 28, was the first such gathering sponsored by the Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project, launched in 2017 by Holliston clergy.
The conference drew more than 50 participants each day in what organizers hope will be a continuing series of events that will draw people from a mix of religious faiths, as well as those with no religious affiliation.
United in grief. Even before conference participants could begin the planned agenda, Rabbi Steven Edelman-Blank of Temple Beth Torah led prayers for the Pittsburgh victims and recalled the valuable mentoring he received years ago at the Tree of Life synagogue. “I would not be a rabbi today, were it not for my experience there,” he said.
Rabbi Edelman-Blank noted that anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose nearly 60 percent in 2017, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Anti-Defamation League. The FBI has designated the Pittsburgh shooting a hate crime. “We mourn the victims, and we worry about our country,” said the rabbi.
Another of the conference’s organizers, Rev. Carl Chudy of Holliston’s Fatima Shrine, said: “We can all bring comfort and consolation to our Jewish neighbors. Interfaith dialogue is more important now than ever before. People of faith can be part of the leaven of peace so sorely needed in the world today.”
During the two-day conference, attendees engaged in several activities designed to build bridges between people of diverse religious backgrounds. These included:
Others observed that many congregations are caught up in more pressing matters, such as declining membership that has caused financial pressures and prompted closings and consolidations. Data from Middlesex County shows that the number of residents who say they are affiliated with a religious denomination declined by 24% from 2000 to 2010, while those with no religious faith increased by 137% in the same period.
Even so, “Loving and Listening” participants clearly viewed the conference as a springboard for more interfaith dialogue. “I loved the warmth and friendship that I felt all around me,” said Verna Hobson of the First Congregational Church. “We are all God’s children, and we have much in common. If there should be further meetings of this sort, I would certainly plan to attend.”
The conference ended with attendees suggesting ideas for future interfaith activities. These included: joint prayer gatherings, such as the interfaith Thanksgiving service scheduled for November 18 at the First Congregational Church. Among other ideas: book clubs, youth volunteer days, open houses, and workshops on addiction and other concerns.
Said Hussam Syed from the Islamic Society of Framingham: “Our problems, goals, aspirations and many of our beliefs are the same. When we get to know each other, we can move beyond mere respect and can be more efficient in reaching out to others, especially the poor and needy.”
(Larry Maloney is an Ashland-based freelance writer. For more information on the Metrowest Interfaith Dialogue Project, contact Rev. Carl Chudy at (508) 429-2144, email: (email@example.com)
Verna Hobson from First Congregational Church wanted to share this beautiful poem for our interfaith gathering. Take a look.
God made of one family the people on earth.
He loves us all dearly; we all have much worth.
We all have one Father, Creator and King,
To love and adore, for whom our hearts sing.
Allegiance to God should be our first goal,
For more than all else, He treasures each soul.
A lesson important that everyone learn –
God’s love is a gift, not something we earn.
He’s made of one blood every person we see;
True brothers and sisters therefore must we be.
While skin colors vary, each beautiful tone
Gives lovely appearance to the one who does own
The red or the yellow, the white or the black –
No skimping on beauty does any race lack.
And if you will notice, with truly great flair
He coordinates skin with the eyes and the hair,
So that all are attractive and carefully made,
Whatever the color, whatever the shade.
Each face and each finger distinctive, unique –
No two are alike, though afar we should seek.
Every person is special, God wants us to know;
And He values each greatly, from head down to toe.
By caring for all, with His love very real,
He sets true example of how we should feel.
We must offer respect to each person we meet –
To push away one is to make incomplete
The family of God, since one Father we share.
Let us show love to all, and to none give despair.
If we view every person as God’s precious child,
We will find all are wanted and will show none reviled.
Our caring means sharing our clothing and food,
And helping another to shelter her brood.
Compassion and kindness to all we must show,
As helping and caring will let others grow.
Since living requires each person to work,
And idleness weakens the one who would shirk,
Then a meaningful job every person desires,
Whether tending a farm, or stoking home fires.
Insofar as we’re able, let us pass on a skill,
That will help others lose their desire to kill.
For each useful endeavor at a task that is learned
Gives hope to the doer and esteem justly earned.
And with each success, and a job that’s well done,
A happier future for all is begun.
For when people are fed, and good health is the norm,
And all live in comfort and out of the storm,
Then peace can begin, and contentment can reign,
And jealousies cease causing sickness and pain.
So we thank Thee, dear God, for each sister and brother.
Keep us mindful of Thee as we help one another.
Bind our hearts in true friendship, make false boundaries flee.
Help us ease others’ burdens, from all hatreds set free.
With Thy light on our path, and our faces aglow,
May we then become beacons to all whom we know.
Then, one family of God as we circle this earth,
Hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart, all will know their true worth!
Verna S. Hobson
November 29, 2004
Copyright © 2005
Judeo-Christian was a myth that served a purpose. It’s time to write the next chapter.
By Eboo Patel
October 18, 2018
Here is how I’ve been opening my speeches on college campuses lately: Did you know that when the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived on the Atlantic seaboard and dusted off Plymouth Rock, they found the words ‘Judeo-Christian America’ etched on it?
I will pause for a moment, taking in the "Oh wow" stares of twenty-year-olds who excelled on standardized tests, and then I will slowly shake my head and allow a knowing smile to climb onto my face.
Sometimes there will be a chuckle from the crowd, but I like it most when students view this gambit as a challenge rather than a joke, when they lean forward in their seats and give me looks that say, ‘Ok buddy, now you’ve got me. So tell me, where did 'Judeo-Christian America' come from? This better be interesting."
And it is. "Judeo-Christian America" was created by a group of interfaith leaders who founded an organization called the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) in the late 1920s as a response to the anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism of the KKK.
The leaders of the NCCJ believed that the Protestant nation narrative needed to be expanded to include the growing numbers of Jews and Catholics in the United States. To accomplish their goal, they created a term that has become so woven into the American story that we forget that someone at some point made it up. "Judeo-Christian America" is a civic invention, and a genius one at that. The history is beautifully recounted in Kevin Schultz’s book, Tri-Faith America’.
Why do so many students in the room look like they believe me (or at least like they want to) when I tell my little Plymouth Rock story? The answer is simple: no one, not in high school or in college, has told them the real story.
In fact, outside of the obligatory references to the First Amendment, no educator has talked to them much about one of the great achievements of American civilization – the creation of a religiously diverse democracy.
There is data that underscores the important difference that colleges can make regarding how students engage with religious diversity. The findings of the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudanal Survey (IDEALS), co-led by Alyssa Rockenbach, Matt Mayhew, and IFYC survey show that students come to campus interested in learning about religious diversity issues, and that incorporating religious diversity education into first-year orientation and creating interfaith course sequences or minors are particularly impactful for achieving higher appreciative attitudes towards diverse identities and increased pluralism orientation.
That’s important, because while the civic invention "Judeo-Christian America" did good work for 80-some years, we now live in a nation with appreciable numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’I’s, Jains, atheists, seekers and more, and in a moment where the forces of religious prejudice are on the rise.
We need a new national narrative that directly combats prejudice and proactively welcomes the contributions of these various groups to the American Table.
The person who writes that narrative might well be a twenty-year-old student on a college campus right now.
Taken from the blog, Inside Higher Ed in a special blog series on Diversity in America.
As we get closer to the event, we will be sharing some thoughts on what happens when people of different faiths come together as an act of faith. What are the possibilities? Stay tuned for me to come.