Interfaith Insight - 2022

Permanent link for "Looking back and looking forward: interfaith in West Michigan" by Doug Kindschi on October 18, 2022

Last month the Aspen Institute released their report,  Building Interfaith Bridges: West Michigan’s Journey toward Principled Pluralism.  The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the Religion & Society Program held at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.  We are excited that our local and regional efforts are being recognized by this respected national organization. I was also on a panel with other interfaith leaders including Eboo Patel, president of Interfaith America, and Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Seminary.  

The report traces the beginnings of interfaith relations and the Kaufman Institute going back to the 1980s in Muskegon and in Grand Rapids. It also documents the development of Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogues, the Academic Consortium conferences, and the various special years beginning with the Year of Interfaith Understanding, as well as the years which focused on Service, Friendship, and Healing. 

The report explores the beginning of interfaith efforts going back to the Jewish-Christian Dialogue initiated by Sylvia Kaufman in the 1980s in Muskegon. In that same decade three women from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths in Grand Rapids began meeting in homes. Lillian Sigal, Marchiene Rienstra, and Ghazala Munir soon invited others from various faith communities to join in. This led to the formation of the Interfaith Dialogue Association that has now merged with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. 

You can read the electronic version of this report by clicking here.

It is noteworthy that both in Muskegon and in Grand Rapids it was Jewish women who took the leadership in bringing a wider and more accepting approach to the interfaith understanding. In an environment of increasing hate and violence it is often anti-Semitism that is expressed.  From the radical white nationalists in Charlottesville carrying their torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” to the tragic killing of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh community, our Jewish brothers and sisters are often the target. When it comes to racial and ethnic hatred, we must always remember the extremes of this which emerged in the Holocaust and the systematic genocide perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis.  

The recent Ken Burns series on “The U.S. and the Holocaust” exposes the depth of anti-Semitism in our own country that contributed to the tragedy. It is important that we never forget, and some upcoming events in our community will be important in that effort. 

On Wednesday Nov. 30, the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids in cooperation with WGVU will sponsor a screening of portions of the Ken Burns video along with a panel discussion. This will be held at Celebration Cinema North at 7:00 p.m.

Next week Wednesday, at Temple Emanuel, there will be a presentation “Stories of Hope & Courage from the Holocaust.” This interfaith presentation will feature Cassandra Kroondyk from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church sharing vocal and violin musical responses. Please respond to [email protected] to RSVP for this program on Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m.

On the following Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7:00 p.m. we are co-sponsoring the Padnos Public Engagement lecture at the Loosemore Auditorium at the GVSU downtown campus. “Remnants of a Mighty Nation: Jews through the Eyes of American Christians” will be presented by Dr. Julian Levinson, the Samuel Shetzer Professor of American Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan. RSVP for this event here

This year's Intefaith Thanksgiving Celebration, themed "Choosing Gratitute," will talke place on November 21, 7pm, at Temple Emanuel featuring a community refelction from Rabbi Michael Schadick. Many traditions and cultures will come together to give thanks for one another and to actively choose gratitude, even in the midst of uncertainty and division. A virtual freewill offering will be taken for Feeding America West Michigan. RSVP for this event here

Looking even further ahead, in February 2023 we are most pleased to bring a rising star from the Sikh community, Valarie Kaur, to our campus to talk about her book  See No Stranger  and her concept of revolutionary love. The Sikh community, along with other minority groups, is also discriminated against and even killed because its members look different. We must all be vigilant in living by the precept to love our neighbor and to love the stranger. 

A new book discussion group will begin this November reading  See No Stranger.  For more information and to join this group meeting by Zoom click here

As we seek peace among the religions, let us also work against the divisions that often become toxic, leading to hate and even violence.  This is so contrary to the religious teachings that we all share and to the basic concept of human dignity. 

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