Interfaith Dialogue with Gabr Fellows

On Friday morning, the Religious Action Center had the privilege of hosting the 2014 Gabr Fellows.  The 2014 fellows are part of East-West: The Art of Dialogue Initiative, initiative project of The Shafik Gabr Foundation.  The fellows spent time travelling in Egypt together and are currently travelling in the United States.  You can see their itinerary here.

The fellows visited the RAC and met with myself and Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center, to learn about interfaith activities in Washington, D.C., and to hear about the interfaith advocacy work that we do.  We shared information on who we are, why we care about interfaith work, and what we do as an organization. 

Who are we?  The Religious Action Center is the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C.  We represent 1.5 million Reform Jews, 1800 rabbis, and 900 congregations across North America.  We shared with the fellows some statistics from the most recent Pew Research Center Study on Jewish identity to help better explain who makes up the Jewish community in the United States and how that informs the interfaith work that we do.

Why do we care about interfaith work?  We shared two text pieces from our tradition about why we care about interfaith work.  The first was from Leviticus 19:17-18: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Eternal.”  The second quotation we shared is found in Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Demai: “In a city where there are both Jews and Gentiles, the collectors of alms collect from both Jews and Gentiles; they feed the poor of both, visit the sick of both; bury both and restore the lost goods of both, for the sake of peace.”  Judaism teaches the importance of working with others in the community to achieve social justice.

What do we do?  We shared different examples of the advocacy work we do with interfaith partners, as well as the unique role that the faith community can play in North America: bridging political divides and using relationships to engage in dialogue to find places of shared values.  One example we shared centered on gun violence prevention, when interfaith leaders gathered at the National Cathedral one week after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  We talked about our work on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; in November, the RAC organized a letter in which close to 60 faith groups representing nearly a dozen denominations signed a letter in support of ENDA.  These were just a few examples of work we have done with interfaith partners on legislative issues..  We also discussed the organizations specifically dedicated to interfaith dialogue that we work with, and some of the programs we participate in and co-sponsor.  You can read more about these on the RAC’s issue page on Interfaith Affairs.

The meeting ended with an open conversation for reflections and discussion.  The Gabr Fellows asked insightful questions about Jewish life in America and the current political climate.  We also had the chance to hear more about their experiences as fellows and to hear them interact with each other.   We wish them success on the rest of their trip in the United States!

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Deborah Goldberg

About Deborah Goldberg

Deborah Goldberg is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She graduated in 2013 from Washington University in St. Louis and is originally from Deerfield, IL where she is a member of Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.

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