Mar. 10, 2011
Partnering with the local Muslim Society, the congregation held a multi-generational interfaith dialogue program.
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Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester
- To forge and sustain a relationship with a local Muslim organization
- To engage synagogue adult and youth members in an understanding of the Muslim faith by underscoring similarities and common roots of the two faith traditions
- To dispel misconceptions by having the Jewish and Muslim participants discuss their perspectives, challenges and experiences as minorities
Partnering with the local Muslim Society, the congregation held a multi-generational interfaith dialogue program to discuss differences and similarities between the two faiths.
Since 2007, a group of synagogue members and local Muslims had been holding monthly joint Torah/Koran study. In addition to monthly study, members of both communities participated in a 9/11 memorial service at the mosque, broke the Ramadan fast beneath the synagogue’s sukkah and participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the synagogue expansion.
In April 2009, the program further expanded to include a multi-generational Jewish-Muslim Dialogue that would build upon the existing relationships and take place on two Sunday afternoons. The program would emphasize the inclusion of youth from both faiths and would allow participants to explore both their commonalities and differences through two simultaneous but separate sessions: one for adults and one for youth. For the youth session, each child was invited to bring a ritual object in order to spark discussions about holidays and observances, as well as evoke emotions associated with those rituals.
Temple Beth El used fliers to advertise the event at the synagogue, the mosque and throughout the community. The synagogue’s communications committee also issued a press release to the local media.
The first dialogue took place at Temple Beth El in the fall of 2009. Everyone began in the sanctuary, where they heard the purpose of the program: to allow an exploration of the participants’ common humanity and give people the opportunity to share their own personal and communal experiences. Participants then split into two groups: adults and youth.
The adult session began with introductions as everyone was asked to speak about their family’s journey to America and Westchester, the challenges of integration and maintenance of their religious practices as immigrants and the role of religion in their lives. Then the program continued with a parallel study of the Torah and the Koran, much in the same way that the discussions had been going since 2007.
The youth session began with introductions as well; they were asked to briefly state their name, age, and where they attended school. Then each child shared the ritual item he or she had brought and explained its significance and meaning in his or her religion. A variety of items were presented, including a menorah, Haggadah, prayer mat and books, traditional head coverings, and a shofar. The children had an opportunity to ask questions after each item was introduced.
To conclude the first program, the adults and children came together and shared what they had learned.Since breaking bread together is a powerful experience, the program concluded with attendees bringing traditional dishes to share, which they then explained to the rest of the group.
The second dialogue took place in the fall of 2010. The adults studied the story of Joseph to continue their conversation about the challenges of integrating into American culture without losing touch with their faith. Meanwhile, the children interviewed each other, asking questions such as, “Where were you born?” “How many siblings to do you have?” and “What’s your favorite holiday?” Each child then introduced the person they had interviewed. The children explained why they had chosen a specific holiday as their favorite, and how that holiday was significant in their religion. Then they played a vocabulary game in which the children had to match words that had similar connotations in both religions (for example, “Torah” and “Koran”). As in the first program, the session concluded by having the adults and children come together to enjoy the traditional dishes.
While education was the main component of the Multi-Generational Jewish/Muslim Dialogue, the program has also strengthened relationships between the Jews and Muslims in Westchester. During the war in Gaza, for example, the dialogue group tackled the difficult issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through those challenging conversations, participants were able to gain a better understanding of one another’s unique perspectives about the conflict.
Another example: Following the devastating floods in Pakistan, synagogue members reached out to the mosque, knowing that many of their members are from and still have family there. The synagogue collected food and medical supplies to send aid to those in need. Thirty congregants visited the mosque on a Sunday morning to help sort supplies and pack more than 60 relief boxes, which were sent to Pakistan via Pakistan Airlines.
The timing of this effort was particularly powerful, as it came in the midst of the controversy about the Muslim community center near Ground Zero and when mosque construction in communities around the country was coming under attack. The Muslim society involved in this dialogue was in the midst of its own building project at the time, so Temple Beth El’s rabbi spoke at a public hearing before the town planning in support of the mosque’s efforts.
Temple Beth El plans to expand its partnership with the mosque by hosting a joint Mitzvah Day with the local Muslim society.