Sylvia and Dick Kaufman

"We've come so far, and yet there's so much still possible. It's gratifying to know that this important work will be carried on through Grand Valley and the Interfaith Institute." -Sylvia Kaufman

The Kaufman Interfaith Institute is part of a rich history of interfaith dialogue in West Michigan. In 1989, respected community leader Sylvia Kaufman initiated a Jewish-Christian dialogue as part of the centennial celebration of the Jewish community’s presence in Muskegon, Michigan. Since that time, hundreds of premier scholars, clergy, citizens, and students from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths have come together every three years for a conference, now known as the Jewish/Christian/Muslim Triennial Interfaith Dialogue. This led eventually to the establishment of the Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University in 2007.

Sylvia Kaufman’s vision led to collaboration with other colleges and seminaries leading to their sponsorship of an annual interfaith conference. Since the establishment of the institute, the programming has been expanded to include many events throughout the year, collaboration with other organizations, small group connections, as well as active on-campus programming. International efforts have been supported by grants and include an interfaith approach to science and religion. The institute is now a part of the university’s Division of Inclusion and Equity working with other social justice units on campus. The community outreach established at the beginning continues to be the major focus for the institute.

Click the image to explore more of our history. 

Click to read the Aspen Institute's study on Interfaith Engagement in West Michigan


Every three years, we hold a year long initiative designed to foster connections among local faith communities centered around an interfaith theme. You might think of the development in these past years as involving the head (understanding, 2012), then the hands (service, 2015), and the heart (friendship, 2018). 

Building on the previous years while addressing the impact of the COVID pandemic, 2021 will be the Year of Interfaith Healing.

Our programming will focus on these four themes. 

  • Healing our bodies
  • Healing our Earth
  • Healing our political divisions
  • Healing our racial disparity

For more on our Year of Interfaith Healing, click here


The 2018 Year of Interfaith Friendship built on the efforts of past years to make connections among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim congregations to stand together and learn from each other in times of anxiety, distrust, and polarization.  

Jerusalem screening

In 2018, we developed interfaith friendship groups which brought families and individuals together around common interests in ways that developed personal relationships and friendships. They were organized around such interests as cinema, book reading, fitness, scriptural reading, knitting, art, medicine, and contemplative traditions.  These groups are continuing after the Year of Interfaith Friendship as well. To attend an event, visit our interfaith friendship group page.

For those from other cities or communities who would be interested in participating in developing interfaith friendships in your area, contact us at [email protected]

Interfaith Service Day Camp

Interfaith Service Day Camp

Interfaith Imagination

Interfaith Imagination

Interfaith Foodies

Interfaith Imagination at GRAM


The 2015 Year of Interfaith Service was a unique partnership combining community organizations, student groups and congregations to promote interfaith service in West Michigan.

East Paris food bank

East Paris Food Bank

On September 11, 2014, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell issued a proclamation that 2015 would be the Year of Interfaith Service. Dozens of events and programs later, the year has officially ended but its impact in West Michigan is leaving a lasting effect. Our interfaith community has been strong for several years, and there is a lot of energy to continue to get to know one another and our diverse traditions. We were able to harness that positive energy and put it into concrete actions that contributed toward the common good.

Together these community members participated in interfaith builds with Habitat for Humanity, volunteered at food pantries, knitted goods for local and national organizations with Interfaith & Interwoven, participated in a beautification service project at local Islamic Center Masjid At-Tawheed, facilitated an Interfaith Memorial Service hosted by area Hospice organizations, and hosted interfaith lectures and workshops by Interfaith Youth Core director Eboo Patel.

habitat collage

Habitat for Humanity


Habitat for Humanity

The Year of Interfaith Service also gained attention from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in the form of a $50,000 grant. The institute has been utilizing the grant to provide students with opportunities to expand their interfaith leadership skills and then apply them on their own campuses, and in the broader community.

While 2015 is over, interfaith service continues to be a primary focus for the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. People are very excited to continue building upon this first year, and we expect interfaith service will continue to grow in West Michigan.

Plaster creek

Plaster Creek Restoration

Year of Interfaith Service Kickoff

Highlights of kickoff event

Eboo Patel lecture

Eboo Patel lecture

Year of Interfaith Service Kickoff full event

Full kickoff event


The 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding was a year-long effort to cultivate community interest and engagement of all faith traditions in West Michigan.

GR Press kickoff

Heartwell proclamation

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell declared 2012 the “Grand Rapids Year of Interfaith Understanding,” and the project was formally announced in a press conference on Monday, September 12, 2011 (Read his proclamation here)

A unique partnership led by Grand Valley State University’s Kaufman Interfaith Institute, the Grand Rapids Press, WGVU Public Media, the Mayor’s office, and three organizing councils sought to promote a yearlong engagement of the topic of interfaith understanding.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell declared 2012 the Grand Rapids Year of Interfaith Understanding,

PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly clip

The Year of Interfaith Understanding  led to over 300 events throughout the community. Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques hosted educational and other events seeking better understanding of the religious diversity in our community. The colleges, universities, and seminaries all had events with the same goal.  Community organizations including museums, the symphony, the Economic Club, and theatre groups all had events that related to the theme. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation awarded the “Year of Interfaith Understanding” a $50,000 grant to help more churches, synagogues, mosques and other groups fund related programs.

2012 Interfaith Thanksgiving collage

Page last modified March 30, 2021