We’ve Got Something in Common
Synagogues Break Barriers Through Interfaith Efforts
Whether we know it or not, it’s common to hold preconceived notions about individuals or groups we perceive as different from us. But if we take the time to engage in some friendly dialogue and keep an open mind, we are often struck by how much in common we actually have with people of different faiths and backgrounds.
The Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) in Pasadena, California, has seen firsthand the immense benefits of interfaith efforts since it established the Interfaith Study Group with the All Saints Church, Pasadena (of Episcopal faith) and the Islamic Center of Southern California. For more than 10 years, the three organizations have come together once a month to talk about a range of topics, hear from speakers of all different religions and share a big vegetarian potluck at the end.
The experience has been groundbreaking for PJTC lay leader Cecilia Fox, who has been a part of the group for eight years. “This study group is the most direct route to peace in the world,” she says. “It opens up friendships and it’s an extraordinary way to broaden our understanding of the world.”
Typically held the second Sunday of each month, the Interfaith Study Group offers a variety of rich discussions. In the past, the group has invited educators, such as a Buddhist professor from Occidental College, to speak about their faith and regularly holds engaging discussion panels where members of each organization speak on issues such as death and how each community deals with the process. “I discovered that Muslims and Jewish people are almost identical on what they do for the body at death—how they have someone sit with the body, wash the body and bury the body,” Cecilia says.
For PJTC Education Director Rabbi Aimee Gerace, who spoke at the most recent interfaith session on January 14, being able to come together with groups of different faiths was a beneficial learning experience for all. “We can get in trouble when we get into generalizations about other faiths and we often make statements believing that every religion has a monolith of beliefs,” Rabbi Gerace says. “I think it’s really important that we learn from each other’s faith communities so we can’t just say all of Judaism believes X, all of Christianity believes Y and all of Islam believes Z.”
Rabbi Gerace joined panel members from All Saints Church and New Horizon, a Muslim day school, to speak about the challenges of giving our children faith-based education in the 21st century. “It was wonderful to hear of common challenges we share,” Rabbi Gerace says. “I had a number of lovely conversations with members of both organizations who agreed what a great opportunity this study group is.”
To learn more about the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, visit here.
Making similar impactful interfaith efforts is Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California, who recently held its annual MLK Unity Shabbat on January 12 and 13. The two-day event celebrated diversity and inclusion with several special guests. “Unity Shabbat at Sinai Temple brings together communities that would otherwise not interact,” Rabbi Erez Sherman says. “Pastor John-Paul Foster of Faithful Central Bible Church brought 20 of his young professional congregants to join us in Shabbat dinner and he will join the Sinai Temple delegation at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. this coming March.”
To learn more about Sinai Temple, visit here.
Additionally, Temple B’nai Israel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, held an enriching discussion on the relationship with immigrants called Sparks of Sanctuary: Welcoming the Stranger, which took place on January 26. The temple welcomed two members of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice to speak on who the “strangers” are in the city and state and what obligations members have to these people.
To learn more about Temple B’nai Israel, visit here.
Also, Tifereth Israel in San Diego, California used Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 15 to bring together people of different faiths and generations to do good in the community. Synangogue members showed up with work gloves, pruning tools and picnic supplies to spend the morning cleaning up Balboa Park alongside people from diverse religious and cultural groups and then enjoy a picnic lunch together. The synagogue, along with its Sisterhood and Men’s Club, is a sponsor of this fun and important community event.
To learn more about Tifereth Israel, visit here.
Meanwhile, leaders and members from Adat Shalom and Ward AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church—both in Los Angeles, California—came together for the second consecutive year to march alongside other marching groups, floats, drill teams, marching bands, color guard teams, dance groups and more at the annual Kingdom Day Parade, Southern California’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, held in South Los Angeles for 33 years now.
The theme of this year’s parade was “When They Go Low, We Go High”—as part of an ongoing effort to change the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities in Los Angeles. “Change always begins with a single step,” says the synagogue’s spiritual leader Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz. “We’re all better off if we learn to walk together.”
To learn more about Adat Shalom, visit here.