InterfaithCincy, in partnership with A Blessing to One Another, is offering Interfaith Community Engagement Grants. Any Faith community or any faith-based youth group that partners with a faith community or youth group from another faith tradition to work on a community engagement project can apply. To view the grant application, please click here. For Information and application form contact Dr. James Buchanan at A Blessing to One Another at [email protected].
Trialogue Group writes an Open Letter to President-Elect Trump
Bridges of Faith Trialogue writes an Open Letter to President-Elect Trump
A local Cincinnati group composed of Christians, Muslims, and Jews called Bridges of Faith Trialogue urges faithful citizens to endorse an open letter to presidential-elect Trump to become more inclusive in his thoughts, words, and actions. The purpose is to uphold the American way and not to fall back on fear and anxiety. The fabric of our country was built on immigration, diversity and strong leaders willing to stand up for the right vision for America. For more on this group and the open letter, Cincinnati Enquirer recently featured this group and their work toward peace. Click Here for more details.
If you are interested in supporting this open letter, please contact Chip Harrod at [email protected]
On October 28th, 2016, Father Michael Graham, SJ President of Xavier University delivered an Invocation to the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber. In his words:
‘In Exodus we read, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy amps the language up; not just “do no wrong,” but: “Love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” And Leviticus shakes its head in vigorous agreement: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself.”
What are we to make of eloquent Biblical testimony like this? At least this much: that the loose talk nowadays about walls and borders, about mass deportations and deep screenings, is far from new – it is indeed an ancient bigotry. Why else would Hebrew scripture thunder against it so? And as God summoned the people He has chosen to be His own to stand fast against exclusion and intolerance in those days, so does He ask the same of us in our day. Lest we, like them, forget something important: they were sojourners once themselves, and as for us, what are we but the descendants of immigrants all – unless we be ourselves the immigrant.
And so – God of the landless and oppressed; of the refugee and the stranger; of the outcast and the despised – we ask your blessing upon our gathering together this night; upon our food; upon our company and our celebration; upon our city, our state, our country.
But, may your blessing of us this night show itself in no better way than this: that we remember always and acutely who we are: your sons and daughters, called to sojourn awhile together as we journey home to you through the world you have given us in common. Side by side may we always go. Brothers and sisters all.’
Local Interfaith Group Leads Discussion on Controversial Play at the Playhouse in the Park
By Chip Harrod
This past year Cincinnati witnessed the return of an important interfaith program. After several years of inactivity, the Bridges of Faith Trialogue re-emerged in early 2016 out of a concern by its members with the rising tide of Islamophobia.
Cincinnati’s Bridges of Faith Trialogue is an on-going conversation among Cincinnati civic leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to foster inter-religious understanding, respect, collaboration and community education. It was organized by the Greater Cincinnati Region of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) in 2003, originally as a Jewish-Muslim dialogue; and was expanded to include Christians in 2007, thus becoming a trialogue.
‘Trialogians” routinely meet in one another’s homes to discuss religious, cultural and geo-political issues of common concern. Over the years, the participants, who are highly respected within their own faith communities, have reckoned with some of the most divisive and sensitive issues of the day, and when called upon, have spoken out with a much needed united voice – one that is informed, ecumenical and conciliatory.
Since its return in January, the Trialogue has focused its conversation and energies on addressing the dangerous level of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, a level of hostility not seen since “9/11.” Fueled by ISIS-inspired terrorism and the inflammatory rhetoric coming out of the presidential campaign, today’s Islamophobic climate begged a response.
After a couple of get-togethers, the members of the Trialogue settled on several initiatives. They launched a “Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors” community education campaign, featuring interfaith panels and the publishing and distribution of a brochure titled Islamophobia – Not in Our Community! Presently in the works is another educational piece, a question-and-answer brochure on Islam.
Just recently, the Trialogue was invited by the Playhouse in the Park to partner with it in providing post-performance audience discussions of the controversial play Disgraced. A Pulitzer prize-winning play authored by Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced features a Muslim protagonist, a success-tracked corporate attorney, who struggles with reconciling his cultural identity and fears of anti-Muslim bigotry with his quest to achieve the American Dream. During the play’s run, interfaith teams of trialogians facilitated the audience’s reactions to the play. A founder of the Trialogue, Dr. Inayat Malik said, “by the design of the playwright, this play is riddled with religious and cultural stereotypes intended to evoke strong reactions from the audience. The purpose of our involvement was to help steer the 1,500 or so audience participants toward a truer understanding of Islam and American Muslims and the challenges our country’s minority religions and races encounter in attempting to successfully acculturate.”
Those interested in joining a trialogue are encouraged to send an email of interest to [email protected].
It is believed the term “dialogue” was introduced by Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in 1905. He described a courageous conversation that engaged equally the heart and the head. Participants in genuine dialogue open themselves up to be challenged, and more often than not they discover that doing so results not only in an affirmation of their own beliefs and opinions but a newfound respect for the diverse perspectives and convictions of others. Interpersonal relationships are forged and intergroup relations are advanced.
Between Heaven and Earth
Between Heaven and Earth
by Rabbi Abie Ingber
Reflections on Friends in the Highest Places
A colleague, a co-author, and a trusted friend. These are just a few of the characteristics that define Rabbi Abraham Skorka’s relationship with Pope Francis. Through their travels together around the world, these men of faith prayed together and inspired one another to live a life of interfaith bridge building and celebration.
When visiting his friend in Rome, Rabbi Skorka is invited to stay with Francis in the Vatican guest house, a place for honored guests of the Church. During their meals, together the food is kosher, and, during moments, of prayer all are included.
The culminating work of Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka in Buenos Aires was their book, On Heaven and Earth, which tackled many different topics addressed by the Catholic Church and Jewish people. From same-sex marriage to the horrors of the Holocaust, both men expressed the beliefs of their people in this one-of-a-kind book from a perspective of love and understanding. Rabbi Skorka continues to serve as the Rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary.
Today, Rabbi Skorka remains a close confidant to Pope Francis, providing advice and experiences that remind them both of their dedication to celebrating one another in their spiritual journeys. Through his continued learning, Rabbi Skorka seeks to share his experiences with others who also wish to lead lives of interfaith.
As part of his efforts to continue interfaith dialogue around the world, Rabbi Skorka will be visiting the Cincinnati community for an evening of education and spiritual growth. Welcomed by Fr. Michael Graham, S.J., Office of the President and the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University, Rabbi Skorka is also visiting a local friend as well.
Rabbi Abie Ingber, Executive Director at the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement, first met Rabbi Skorka on a trip to New York City. “Rabbi Skorka is coming to Cincinnati to share his reflections on Pope Francis and the larger issue of Catholic-Jewish relations,” said Ingber. “What an important time of year for this momentous visit, as we are tested to love one another in the face of adversity and persecution by our countries leaders.”
The program will be on Monday, November 7 in the Cintas Center Banquet Hall at 7 p.m. For more information on Rabbi Skorka’s visit to Cincinnati, visit http://www.xavier.edu/skorka
HOPE by Azra Ataullah
I find myself thinking a lot about valuable life lessons I can continue to teach my kids. As a society, we are constantly surrounded by the various voices in the media, political analysts, political speeches, dramatic news events, and the ever-so-fascinating social media. In the process of trying to make sense of it all, I decided to focus on the topic of hope.
We are all driven by hope. There is no life without hope. Recently, we had a tragic event in our school district. A high school student, who many described as the funniest person they knew, decided to take his own life. It is difficult to imagine the sense of hopelessness a person this young could have felt to take such a step. School, students, teachers, friends, family, church, social media, tv, music, movies, video games, sports- not one of these provided even a glimpse of hope to this child to continue to live his life.
For the past couple of years, heartbreaking images of Syrian refugees have been displayed on our screens. Families with young children risked their lives to abandon a place of complete hopelessness and set out on a dangerous journey to the other side of the ocean. Risking death only for the tiniest glimpse of hope they see across the ocean.
Someone once told me, the common man is the same in every country. Regardless of race and religion the common man has the same wants and needs. We work hard everyday, in the hope of providing our children with a good education, hoping they will pick the right career and settle down. Then we hope to have time to enjoy our retirement years doing the things we have always wanted to do. This life cycle must be radically different for people in power. The question is will our leaders fill us with hope for a better future for our children or fulfill their own set of hopes and dreams?
We are heading towards the most important election in the world. The phrase I keep hearing is the “transparency of the two candidates” and how people have issues trusting both of these candidates. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out and time will tell if we as the greatest country in the world, picked the right candidate. Our greatest responsibility will be to choose “hope” but the tricky part is trying to figure out if there is a sense of false hope or if there is even the slightest chance of real hope.
“Shoulds” by Jordy Cohen
There are often a lot of “shoulds” in religion: you should do this, you should not do that; you should feel this, you should not feel that. Visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem encompasses many of these “shoulds.” At the wall, you should be moved, you should have a spiritual experience, you should “feel like it all makes sense,” you should be overcome with emotion, you should cry, you should feel “changed.”
Traveling Israel for 3 weeks as the Program Director for a group of American teenagers engaging with service and social justice issues, I was afraid of these “shoulds” at the Wall, the Kotel. Thinking back to my experiences at a teenager at the Kotel, I felt the pull of “the should” and the guilt when I was honest with myself that I just didn’t feel it. Carrying this guilt into another generation’s experience was not an option, there has to be another way of doing it.
There is a Jewish tradition to give someone money, just a few cents or a dollar, to take with them on their journey to Israel with the intention to donate it during their time in the country. The idea is that this dollar will keep them safe because they have another purpose, a greater purpose; they’re carrying something for someone else. The first time I really felt something at the Kotel was in college. I was teaching a fourth grade religious school class and was going to Israel on an alternative spring break service trip. I gave my fourth graders the opportunity to write notes with the promise that I would deliver them to the Western Wall. One of my students came to the front of the room with his written note and said “here I’m ready for you to check it.” I explained to him that there was no proofreading or spellchecking with these notes, his note was between him and God. I told the class that when they finished their note, folded it and placed it in the plastic bag, it wouldn’t come out again until I was at the Kotel and still, they would remain folded and unread. They were so excited and I promised pictures of all of their notes in the Wall together. A week later as I approached the Western Wall, I began to panic. Looking down at these notes written in big letters on haphazardly folded construction paper, how in the world would they all fit together in one of the small inlets in the stone? Had I made a promise I could not fulfill? As I reached the wall, I found an empty nook that somehow swallowed up these twenty-four clumsy notes. For the first time, I felt something at the Kotel.
This summer, my group of brilliant, inspired and empowered teens had the honor of carrying the prayers of others to the Kotel. They carried with them notes that had been written by strangers from around the world and placed in a replica Western Wall in the “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II & The Jewish People.” In honor of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Wall and the note he placed within its stones, visitors to the exhibit had the opportunity to write their own notes with the promise that they would be delivered to Jerusalem. This group of teenagers had the opportunity to carry these hopes and prayers. Whether they had this personal, spiritual, life changing experience (or not) shifted out of focus as they had a greater purpose; they carried something, they carried prayers for someone else and that in itself is an experience to treasure.
Nostra Aetate: Beyond Interfaith Dialogue to Interfaith Collaboration
Nostra Aetate: Beyond Interfaith Dialogue to Interfaith Collaboration
by James Buchanan, Executive Director
Xavier University, The Brueggeman Center for Dialogue
In 2015 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. This is not only one of the foundational documents of the post Vatican II Catholic Church but of all interfaith relations. In fact, it is considered by many as the most significant interfaith document ever written. Nostra Aetate was a paradigm shift for the Catholic Church which has become a paradigm shift for all of the religions because it paved the way for 50 years of interfaith dialogue. The document itself is disarmingly simple. It consists of five short sections which together total only 1054 words. But it is 1054 words that would slowly but surely begin to change the course of the Church, of the interfaith world, and of our local communities. It opens with the following statement: “In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.” What we have in common religiously are the deep questions about life: “What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?”
Theologically within a generation a multitude of interfaith dialogues had emerged around the world. Christian-Jewish, Christian-Buddhist, Christian-Muslim, Christian-Hindu, and Christian-Confucian dialogues became the one of the new directions for theological reflection. A new generation of scholars such as Mircea Eliade, Huston Smith, Willian Cantwell Smith and others became influential as History of Religions and the study of Comparative Religions emerged as serious disciplines in our universities. Writers such as Paul Knitter, Raimon Pannikar, David Tracy and others began to incorporate interfaith dialogue into their theological work. Institutions such as the Center for the Study of the World’s Religions and the Pluralism Project emerged with a new emphasis upon interfaith dialogue and understanding. National and global organizations such as the Council on Christian Jewish Relations, the International Council on Christians and Jews, The Parliament of the World’s Religions and many others now bring together thousands of leaders from the world’s religions to foster dialogue and understanding. Important documents such as Dabru Emet and A Common Word are calling the other Abrahamic traditions to dialogue in new ways. Interfaith dialogue and understanding is now an integral part of much of the theological education worldwide and is present in a variety of ways and forms in many of our communities. All of these and more trace back directly or indirectly to Nostra Aetate.
The challenge that Nostra Aetate presents in our time is that we build on the fifty years of dialogue with a shift to yet another new paradigm. It is critical that we, not only as faith communities, but as interfaith communities begin to work together to systemically change the fragmented, dis-integrating fabric of the communities we share. It is critical that the faith communities work together to provide a new interconnective tissue that binds us together and begin to shape a common good that challenges the forces of individualism, hyper-consumption, environmental degradation and social and economic inequity that plague our communities. The new paradigm is one that builds on dialogue but moves to actual, fully engaged interfaith collaboration. Interfaith collaboration can become a new and powerful form of social capital that works to transform our communities in ways that working as individual faith communities we would never be able to achieve. We need to provide a new foundation that can become the “guiding hand” that renews our communities. The challenge of the next 50 years is that we move beyond interfaith dialogue to interfaith collaboration.
Dialogue is and always will be the foundation upon which we must build community. Religiously, the hard truth is that no matter how long we continue engaging in interfaith dialogue we will never settle issues of covenant and new covenant, succession of prophets, trinity, soteriology, monotheism and polytheism, birth and rebirth and so on. Does that mean we should not continue to engage in dialogue? Of course not. We need to not only continue but to deepen our understanding and acceptance of the other.
There are so many issues in our communities about which we agree and which need our combined effort to address. There is strength in numbers and there is strength in people of faith who can overcome their theological differences to work for a common good. All of our faith communities are touched by issues such as the struggles of the refugee and asylee population among us. We are all touched by the bigotry of Islamophobia highlighted in a previous issue of the InterfaithCincy newsletter. We are all touched by the social and economic inequity that continues to spread among our marginalized communities like an epidemic. We are all touched by the environmental challenges which, while impacting our lives, will have dramatically more dire impacts on the lives of our children.
We have more issues in common and more values in common than those things that divide and separate us. Our hope for this website and the projects that it might help to spawn is that it will enable us to build on the existing dialogue and collaboration such that the interfaith community might become a foundational part of the social capital that shapes our future. Regional organizations such as the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and the AMOS project have led the way but the challenges that face our region far exceed their ability to address. Cincinnati is uniquely positioned to become a model city in terms of interfaith collaboration. We have vibrant faith communities and we have faith-based universities and colleges all of whom are poised to work together toward a greater common good.
Dialogue in itself is not sufficient. Celebration as a form of acceptance of the other is not sufficient. Civility and tolerance in-themselves are not sufficient. We can only truly test the strength of dialogue and build upon it through the hard work of interfaith collaboration
Unyielding to Fear: Islamophobia
Unyielding to Fear: Islamophobia
The Voices from Cincinnati Community Leaders Speak out on Islamophobia
by Judie Kuhlman
Fear is something that we do not like to talk about publically or even privately. Howard Thurman, author, educator, theologian and civil rights activist, states that we have a “reluctance to examine hatred” and it is a subject of “taboo unless there is an extraordinary social crisis.” There is nothing new about fear – “it is doubtless as old as the life of man on the planet.” We find fear in many different forms. It is up to our community to confront it and find solutions. What Howard Thurman found was that “faith and awareness can overcome fear and transform it in to the power to strive, to achieve and not to yield.”
On Wednesday April 13th The National Underground Freedom Center hosted From Fear to Freedom: Confronting Islamophobia. “Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination and marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civil life.” This event included a panel of scholars and religious leaders who wish to transform our fears into something that can build up our community. This panel included Dr. Amina Darwish of University of Cincinnati, Dr. Anas B. Malik of Xavier University, Dr. Baher Foad of Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Imam Ilyas Nashid of Cincinnati Islamic Center and was moderated by Dr. James Buchanan of Xavier University. Each guest had a unique contribution and the following comments were collected and summarized:
Dr. Anas Malik: It (Islamophobia) seems to be a far reaching bigotry that does not seem to match the spirit of our times and what we aspire our times to be… We risk making the clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West a reality, or the clash of modernity and tradition etc. We risk polarizing the world. We need to look deeper into the other complexities that are going on in our world. It is worrisome in a democratic culture when engagement and forums are on the decline. We need key teachers, better public forums and public deliberations to reach a better understanding. It requires civil society’s engagement, and good citizenship. We learn through encounters with one another. Dr. Malik calls us to an important document called A Common Word between Us and You. This document is an important step in dialogue between Muslims and Christians. It addresses the commonalities to the love of God and the love of neighbor. This document calls for collective problem solving with one another.
Dr. Amina Darwish: Of the Muslim school children, 52% have been bullied in some way. Bullying creates depression, anxiety and so many other things. Many problems that kids face have to deal with their identity. They have to question does my society accept me? I tell them that there are more people that are good than are bad. You are just as American as everyone else. Dr. Darwish tells of a story of when the Prophet Muhammad had to flee because of being threatened. When they arrived in a new city to a new culture, his followers were having culture shock and they asked what do we do? He said ‘Spread Peace, Feed Food (not just to the poor but to everyone), Pray during the night.’ It takes strength to sit across the table from someone that is a total stranger that you have nothing in common with. But, I will sit across from someone that I have nothing in common with. I will bow to your humanity more than anything else because that is what matters at the end of the day… and that is what is means to be American and that is what is means to be Muslim.
Imam Ilyas Nashid: To be a Muslim, means to make the conscious and willing commitment to conform your life and conform to the behavioral patterns of the Prophet Muhammad. You cannot selectively decide what in the Quran you are going to follow or not follow based on what serves your best interest. When we hear terms like radical, it means to go to extremes. Whenever you go to extremes you have expelled yourself from the religion. Terrorism, the acts of killing innocent men and women and children are things the Prophet spoke about that we should never do. It would be embarrassment and shameful especially on our intelligence if we would attach such extreme terrorist behaviors into the teachings of Jesus Christ. Because we know that those evil acts have nothing to do with Jesus Christ. We know what Jesus taught. To attach offensive terms to the religion of Islam, it is offensive to the religion itself and offensive to those practicing it. In reality, radicalism, terrorism, extremism represents the antithesis of what the Islam is and its nature to serve mankind. Let’s bring this discussion to an end. Those that practice terrorism are, simply, Terrorists.
Dr. Baher Foad: Islam is a religion of peace and not of violence. The Quran states, ”If a person kills one soul it is considered as if he is killing all of mankind. If one saves a soul it is considered as if her has saved all of mankind.” We should work together to improve life in community through cooperation in virtue and righteousness. Muslims are forbidden in the Quran to force non-Muslims to Islam as their way. From the Quran, before faith can settle in your heart and take hold of your heart, it must be based on knowledge and proper understanding. Then faith that is solid takes over your heart, then a submission to God such that you are living your life in a good way. The principles of the American constitution are also in the Quran. The principles of freedom, justice, accountability, pursuit of happiness are all embodied in the Quran more than 1400 years ago.
In order deal with the fears that permeate our society we must be willing to dialogue. Extremism has plagued many religions and now Islam has to deal with it. From the guest panel there are many solutions. We must connect on a human level. We do this through social engagement, working together and meeting those who are different. We have diversity in our society and we must appreciate it. To return to Howard Thurman, “there is something in life that always insists upon an inter-awareness, a felt experienced unity. Life is against all dualism. All dichotomies, all dualisms are exhausted in unity. I am stripped to whatever is literal in me in the presence of God. I know that in my mind that no categories of classification of faith, of belief, none of the categories, have a standing in the presence of this transcendent experience. Whether I am black, white, Presbyterian Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu Muslim, all these categories which we relate to, each other fade away because in His presence I am a part of Him being revealed to Him. And anything that I do those blocks that, from my point of view, is a sin because it is against God and against life. When this can be awakened, then a door between us is open that that no man can shut. The only ultimate refuge, in this world, is in another man’s heart, so my heart must be a swinging door.”
 Thurman, Howard. Interview with Landrum Bolling
Islamophobia: Signs, Implications and Choices
Islamophobia: Signs, Implications and Choices
by Dr Ferhan Asghar
“It is quite an eye-opening experience to read letters to the editor in response to any article or news stories about Islam and Muslims lately. Whether in a left or right-leaning outlet, and whether an article paints Muslims in a positive or negative light, the pieces almost universally demonize an entire group of human beings as less than such. “Look at their history.” one person wrote. “They have always been killing and fighting since the days of Muhammad!” Factually ignoring hundred of years Muslim have lived together peacefully with almost every faith. Our ability to isolate a group as “THEY” allows tribal instincts to justify behavior ranging from simple isolationism to exclusion and discrimination to downright violence against what is labeled “other.” Human history is peppered with dangerous precedents. It is important for us to recognize destructive patterns of thought and call people out for verbalizing them. This includes:
1. “THEY are violent against Christians in Muslim countries, so they’ve got it coming when THEY live in a Christian country.”
2. “I don’t know any Muslims and I don’t want to get to know THEM.”
3. “Leftists are attempting to dilute OUR Judeo-Christian heritage by allowing acceptance of Muslims who inherently hate US.”
4. “If we allow Muslims into the country, THEY’LL implement Sharia law here.”
5. “We need to carpet bomb THEM.” This asinine statement from none other than a presidential candidate is nothing less than shocking and down right frightening as a human race because of the way it resonated with millions of supporters!
The list could go on. As a social exercise, readers are encouraged to think of examples they have seen in action and to note instances they come across in the future. We have unfortunately reached a point where not only are hate crimes being committed against Muslims, but those who speak out against it are being reprimanded.
What choices do we make; ignore the hate, join the hate or take constructive action to minimize the hate? Each one has serious implications for not only whom the hate is directed towards but all of our children and our collective future.
Dr Ferhan Asghar an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Cincinnati and a speaker for the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.
International Women’s Day Dinner: Building from the Ground Up
Hi, I’m Leslee, and I’m a cisgender, queer, white, twenty-something, Jewish, American woman.
I use these labels to identify who I am in the space of our society. I belong to each of these communities – I find solidarity with other Americans, speak the cultural language of my religion with other Jews. I recognize the privilege being one of the majority as a white person in this country; I stand with my fellow LGBTQ folk as members of a vibrant minority. I flow in and among these communities every day.
Until recently I never thought about the fact that I’m a part of another community – that of women. I was assigned female at birth, and have identified as female all my life, so I took this status, this community, as a given. I’ve only realized in coming of age as an adult that my identity as a woman is hugely important to who I am, and I embrace this.
That said, I’m still figuring out what it means to me to be one of the community of women. My identity as a woman was largely formed through interactions along the lines of society’s gender binary – meaning, I’ve been a woman because I’m not a man. My gender identity was crafted through seeing what I’m not, or what I’m not supposed to do or say or act like. If man is the ‘self’, I have been the ‘other’. I was someone who used to say, “I’m not like most girls,” and “being friends with guys is so much better,” because I didn’t want to be ‘other.’
My journey toward the rabbinate (I’m studying to be a Jewish clergy person) has led me to reflect deeply upon the many layers of my identity and upon the many communities of which I am a part. I want to learn more about what it means for me to part of the community of women, just as I continue to explore what it means to me to an American, a Reform Jew, a queer person, and more.
Recently I attended the International Women’s Day Dinner at Xavier. This is the second women-focused event (the first was Why We Stay – check out the article that my colleague Judie Kuhlman and I wrote here) I’ve had the privilege of attending through my job at the Brueggeman Center for Interfaith Dialogue. I got to learn so much about crafting a community of women, as a woman, from the amazing panelists who spoke.
Quanita Roberson specializes in trauma healing, leadership development, equity education, and African American Spirit Coaching in her work around the globe. She spoke of women’s power as coming from a place of softness, which runs contrary to our usual associations of power with hardness. Softness, I learned from hearing Roberson speak of her experiences, is powerful because its vehicle is compassion. Compassion drives us to accomplish and to connect, and this is how we foster community.
Ligia Gomez is a full time faculty member in the Romance Languages and Literature Department at the University of Cincinnati, and works in the Cincinnati community in roles that include chair of Apoyo Latino: Greater Cincinnati Latino Coalition, and founding member of the Latino Health Collaborative. Gomez spoke about her experiences as one of many local Latina women who crafted their own community, built through individual connections and collaborations, wherein these women find friendship and support. I learned from her that strong communities may be formed organically, and that small acts of reaching out can have a major impact. Gomez told the crowd the story of when she wanted to create a new program within the University to meet the growing need she saw, but was met with resistance. By crafting a demand for the program through passing word around, Gomez inspired me to see creative ways of working within a system to accomplish goals.
Sylvia Jepchirir Chemweno is a student at Xavier with plans for medical school, and also serves as a board member of Community Action Day, Student Government Association Senator, Interlink peer mentor, member of interfaith cabinet leadership, African Students Association Secretary, and the Women’s Retreat Team Leader. She spoke about her experiences growing up in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in Kenya and the systemic inequality present for women in education. I saw from Chemweno a thorough integration of her faith, her feminism, and her goals. She portrayed herself in an absolutely authentic way that we may all aspire to reach.
Each of the tables in the audience had a pile of blocks on it. We were invited to build with the blocks as we were inspired to do so. Each of the 7 women around my table contributed to the structure we ended the session with. We collaborated, without judgment or pretense or pressure, and built something together. At the end of the session we were invited to take a block with us. I treasure the blue bridge-shaped piece I chose. This block reminds me of the importance of my identity as a woman to who I am, and to engage with and connect to the communities of women around me. I am blessed with opportunities to grow and cultivate communities through my work, and I shall take what I have learned from this dinner with me as I move forward into the rabbinate.