A Shared Struggle for Our Distinct Identities

by Nomi Teutsch, Shatil Fellow at ICCI

On December 10th, people of three faiths gathered to discuss the topic “Confronting Hellenization and Secularism: Then and Now” in honor of Hanukkah. Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman led the crowd in the lighting of the candles. He stressed that, just as Jewish people are supposed to make the light of the Chanukah candles public to celebrate an ancient miracle, so too should each person at this event make public the miracle of people of many faiths coming together in these trying times to bring light into the world.

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Throughout the evening’s programming, it became clear that this miracle does not end at simply being in the same room. Rather, the miracle occurred as people of diverse faiths engaged in questions that are dear to all of us, leading everyone in attendance to a new awareness that many struggles we face as communities are shared with all people of faith. The central questions of the evening were: how do we engage modernity without losing our religious traditions and identities? Where is the line between embracing innovation and assimilating?

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, Director of ICCI and JCJCR, moderated a panel that included Kadi Iyad Zahalka, Rev. Samuel Fanous, and Prof. Israel Levine, each of whom examined these questions from the perspective of his own Tradition. The Kadi summed up the themes of the discussion well when he said, “The power and strength of a nation, a religion, or a belief system rests on the extent to which it is open and yet can still preserve itself.” This is the balance that we should all seek, even though the extremists in all religious groups reject this balance.

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What struck me most at this event was that just by being there, all those in attendance were making a statement that interreligious engagement is not the cause of assimilation, but rather a tool for combatting it. I have found this time and time again in my own interreligious work. Rather than weakening or threatening a participant’s religious identity, interreligious engagement strengthens it. As we engage with those who are different from us, even on issues of shared concern, we often deepen our commitment and rootedness in our own identity. As each faith community continues to search for the balance between embracing the contemporary world and maintaining tradition, my hope is that we remember that engaging with one another across religious lines need not threaten our separate identities. May we not be afraid to continue to make small miracles happen by coming together as people of faith along the way.

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