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Approaching the 10th Anniversary of 9/11: Interfaith Teach-In


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On Sunday, May 15, a diverse group of 150 New Yorkers met for the 9th Annual Dialogue Project “Interfaith Teach-In,” held at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.  The program, “Approaching the 10th Anniversary of 9/11,” began with Christian, Jewish and Muslim songs performed by the Peace of Heart choir, which formed in response to 9/11.  A keynote exchange followed between author and scholar Haroon Moghul of the Maydan Institute and rabbinical student and interfaith leader Joshua Stanton of Religious Freedom USA focused on the subtle challenges of engaging with the Other, with reference to Islamophobia and other challenges since 9/11.

Then came the heart of the afternoon’s program, in which three to four religious leaders and teachers from Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim backgrounds each conducted a round-table discussion, each with about 10 participants from other faith groups. The facilitators had prepared a study-discussion about  how their texts, values, and traditions guide us regarding either Community Trauma and Healing, Transforming and Resolving Conflict, or Stereotypes: Understanding the Stranger and the “Other”.

 

My group consisted of a Muslim Palestinian American early childhood educator (who teaches in a Jewish school), a Catholic nun, two Muslim young women finishing their graduate education (one in mental health), a Protestant academic, a Chinese American raised as a Buddhist, a Muslim woman originally from West Africa, a Christian man also originally from Africa, a Jewish pediatrician and peace activist from Brooklyn.  After a brief introduction, I shared some midrashic narratives from classical Jewish sources about the Hurban (the Destruction of the Ancient Temples, and the Exiles) – focusing on “The Search for a Narrative” and “The Search for Direction.”  I then shared seven Jewish spiritual responses to communal trauma over the centuries – including Fasting, Psalms, Tzedakah, Hessed, Torah Study, Memorials, and Lamentations – and briefly described the “Three Weeks” that lead up to the annual Fast of Tisha B’Av.  A wide range of questions ensued regarding, for example, how Jews understand the Messianic Age, how/why we speak of God in anthropomorphic terms, whether it is comforting or distressing to imagine God weeping inconsolably over the Hurban and the purpose of integrating sadness/grief even into happy moments.  The meeting concluded with sharing on our sentiments about the 10th anniversary, namely what we expect and want from this juncture.

 

The whole event closed with singing led by Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, Juliet Rabia Gentile (a Sufi teacher and performer) and Rafael Candelaria (a Seventh-Day Adventist minister and musician) who integrated three chants — Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Teach-In, anticipating a challenging anniversary this fall, yielded fulfilling spiritual, intellectual and emotional preparation.



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