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Have a little (Inter)Faith Programming
By Rachel Fraade, Lawrence Magdovitz ISJL Education Fellow
Some of the most valuable things I’ve learned about Judaism have been from non-Jews. I’m a huge believer in the power of interfaith friendship, both as a tool for personal growth and as one to improve the world. I witness this on the road as well—as an Education Fellow, I hear all about the successes and struggles of building interfaith community across the south. An endeavor that can be difficult to get going, but always rewarding, is partnership with other congregations. Some of Judaism’s core values are common to other faiths: caring for the needy, spirituality, and community are just a few. We often see this in interpersonal relationships—I have close friends of other faiths, and we often talk about how we relate to our different religions—but we must also expand it to institutional relationships.
Engaging people from other faith communities can be a great way to switch things up in your community, while also encouraging congregation members to deepen their observance of Judaism. Especially in small communities, having a larger group for a discussion or event can be a big help. Instead of the same four opinions in the room, bringing in new voices can teach everyone new perspectives. Some of my favorite interfaith engagement events have involved bringing everyone out of their comfort zone to do good for the community. I’ve planned a sweet potato picking, where people of all faiths traveled together to a local farm to pick up the sweet potatoes left over after the harvest. We collected them and donated them to a local food service organization, which took them to food pantries and homeless shelters across the region. Other examples include a build with your local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, or coming together to sponsor a speaker.
Another powerful act is inviting another community into your space, or accepting an invitation into theirs. One of the most meaningful prayer experiences I’ve ever had was a joint Muslim-Jewish prayer service, in which I led Friday night prayer but stood alongside Muslim friends while they shared a prayer for the well-being and unity of both of our communities. Earlier in the day, I had attended Jummah, their Friday afternoon prayer, and then they joined me at Kabbalat Shabbat. A prayer for peace holds more meaning when it is said alongside a group that often faces the brunt of fear and violence in our world. After this event, I felt recommitted to working towards peace for “kol yosh’vei teivel,” all the inhabitants of the world, in addition to “kol yisra-eil,” all Jews.
Interfaith engagement has changed my outlook on life and Judaism, and it has a great deal of power when practiced in our communities. It builds relationships, encourages us to deepen our personal faith, and facilitates strong communities. It can begin with something as small as a lunch (or as large as an open-to-the-public prayer service) and can result in a united community. No matter the size of our congregation, we can undoubtedly benefit from increasing interfaith engagement.
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