Growing through interfaith and intercultural work

By Josh Yudkin

Last week, the Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC) held their 12th conference. Based in Austria, this dialogue and leadership organization brings together a select number of Jewish, Muslim and faith leaders from around the world to advance intercultural communication and interfaith issues, in particular Muslim-Jewish relations. In 2018, I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the in-person conference in a castle in the French countryside, and I am grateful to have participated again virtually last week.

In a breakout session, there was a dynamic discussion focused on the “why” behind interfaith work — are interfaith activities a goal on their own, or are they a vehicle to achieve a different goal? In other words, is engaging in an interfaith activity sufficient, or must it be used to advance another cause, such as fighting hate, reducing homelessness or increasing access to education?

Interfaith and intercultural work is a goal in and of itself. It is a practice of kavannah, or intentionality, and it is a practice of kavod, or respect. It is an individual practice of self-awareness, and it is a communal practice of coexistence. It is a celebration of the necessary diversity that, as a species, is critical to our survival.

Interfaith and intercultural work is also a vehicle by which to engage in tikkun olam, or leaving the world a better place than we found it. It is an endeavor through which emergence — the notion that, together, we are stronger and have a longer-lasting impact than if we act alone — advances humanity. It allows authentic and value-based relationships to guide us in enacting societal change. It is a timeless tool to engage in sacred work.

At the 2021 MJC Conference, community leaders from places ranging from the United States to Colombia, France, Pakistan and Tunisia were present and presenting. Interfaith music concerts, activities from Germany and community activism from Bosnia and Herzegovina were celebrated. A scholar from an Iraqi madrasa shared the same space as a rabbi from Be’er Sheva.

There is amazing work being done to create intentional and safe spaces in communities throughout the world, including right here in Texas. Take a look at the JUST Conversations initiative based in the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) or the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Muslim Jewish Advisory Council in Dallas. Yet, we also live in a society where, recently, a synagogue was vandalized by an arsonist and a public school system mistakenly advised teachers to teach opposing views of the Holocaust. Significantly, 90% of American Jews and 60% of the general American public consider antisemitism a problem in the status quo.

I reflect on the “why” — “why” we are here, “why” we create interfaith and intercultural mifgashim (encounters) and “why” such activities must continue to be a communal priority, and I want to share with you an answer I heard last week at the MJC Conference: These experiences are gateways to create personal encounters. I want to add that, through these personal encounters, we transform and transcend. It is through such encounters that we become more aware of others and more aware of ourselves — we, as individuals, and we, as a community.

Interfaith and intercultural encounters can be a catalyst for growth. Growth begins within. Growth extends beyond the self. By sharing, we receive. As we celebrate this holiday season, what do you want to share and what do you hope to receive?

Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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