Who We Are
Mission: To promote interfaith understanding & mutual respect in West Michigan
Vision: Through interfaith dialogue and service, we promote a vibrant and diverse community for all generations.
Values: Beyond tolerance, we value hospitality, understanding, respect, and acceptance.
It was in Muskegon in the late 1980s that Sylvia Kaufman conceived and led a community celebration of the Jewish community’s presence in that city. It attracted national interest with an article in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune article began:
“Which of the following statements is true?
(A) Muskegon County, Mich., is a bastion of Jewish culture, hosting exhibits, concerts, films and scholarly studies and dissertations on contemporary and historic Judaism. . . . or
(B) Muskegon County`s 150,000 population includes only 250 Jews.
The second statement is true.
Nonetheless, the first statement is also true, at least for eight months beginning last weekend, when renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman flew into town on a private jet.”
A consequence of this celebration was the beginning of a triennial Jewish-Christian Dialogue, which brought to West Michigan famous theologians from both traditions for a day-long interaction. In 2006 the dialogue was moved to Grand Rapids and expanded to include the Muslim faith, bringing together the three Abrahamic faiths. This then led to the establishment of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, housed at Grand Valley State University.
The Institute continues to coordinate the triennial Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue every three years as well as the Interfaith Academic Consortium conferences in the intervening years. The Consortium includes eight colleges, universities, and theological seminaries in West Michigan. Thus, every year there is a major conference focusing on interfaith issues drawing participants from throughout the state and beyond.
West Michigan has a rich history of engagement in interfaith dialogue, largely because of the organizations Sylvia Kaufman, a respected community leader, has founded. Sylvia initiated the first community dialogue on interfaith issues through the former West Shore Committee for Jewish/Christian Dialogue in 1989. 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 Triennial Interfaith Dialogue.
In 2001, Sylvia brought together a group of six academic institutions and formed the West Michigan Academic Consortium. Each year, the consortium plans a program with a single speaker, which provides continuity between the triennial Dialogues. In honor of Sylvia Kaufman's 20-plus years of dedication to promoting understanding among faiths, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute was created at Grand Valley State University in the summer of 2007. GVSU is providing leadership and administrative services for the institute. As of 2011, the West Michigan Academic Consortium consists of nine colleges and universities.
"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 an extension of our mission to embrace diversity as a way of understanding our world, promoting the voices and experiences of all, and incorporating them into our learning environment." -Thomas J. Haas, president emeritus, Grand Valley State University