It’s not what most teens would do on a Friday night, but last week dozens of teenagers from around the Valley representing seven faiths happily gathered to discuss their relationship with religion.
“We are here tonight to show how we can be a light together in a time of darkness,” said Ethan Weisman, BBYO member and one of the evening’s co-hosts. “Let us work together to mobilize our generation to do our part to amplify all voices everywhere to promote understanding and love over division and hate.”
On Dec. 7, the BBYO Mountain Chapter in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Board of Greater Phoenix, hosted a Shabbat dinner at the Valley of the Sun JCC that included representatives from the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, the Roman Catholic Franciscan Renewal Center, the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i of Scottsdale and more.
“I wanted to come by to learn more about Judaism, because I don’t know that much about it,” said Zain Mowzoon-Mogharravi, who came with the Islamic Speakers Bureau. “I know that I have some Jewish relatives on my mother’s side. This felt like a good way to learn more.”
The event began with a retelling of the Chanukah story. Then, eight teens from different religions helped to light the candles for the sixth night of Chanukah. Before the Shabbat dinner, Marty Harberer, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, moderated a panel discussion that featured each religious organization’s adult representative answering various questions asked by the mostly teenage audience.
During dinner, each table held teens from all of the visiting religious organizations while a BBYO teen representative led discussions about religious philosophy that were aimed at bridging gaps among the various faiths.
Some of the topics the teens inquired about included adapting ancient scripture to a younger audience, each religion’s interpretation of the afterlife and how their beliefs inspire their deeds.
As the panel went on, the teenage audience was attentive, receptive and respectful of each speaker and their
Afterward, all the teenagers stood in a circle to start a larger discussion and answer questions asked by Weisman and fellow BBYO co-host, Sylvie Harris. Many entered the center of the circle to share a story, a thought or their perspective on their religion. Some of the questions were personal and probing.
For example, one teen boldly entered into the circle and admitted that he wasn’t sure if he would be Jewish if his parents weren’t.
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t love my people, or my family,” he added, but he reflected on why his religion was chosen for him and he was unsure if it matched what he felt in his heart.
At the end of the evening, Arizona Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League Carlos Galindo-Elivira, warned about social media’s impact on tolerance.
“When you see something hateful or derogatory on social media, don’t share it, put a stop to it right there,” Galindo-Elivira said. “Right now, you’re in a situation where you’re sitting in a circle with different people and it doesn’t
have to stop tonight. You can expand
that circle to create a more inclusive, stronger network.”
The BBYO Mountain Chapter event was just one of many around the world that took part in the Global Shabbat. Held between Dec. 7-9, more than 500 local BBYO chapters in 20 countries participated in the Global Shabbat, including the United Kingdom, Argentina, Turkey and Russia.
The Global Shabbat’s theme was “Let There Be Light.” Specifically, BBYO focused on bringing youth together to “remind the world that even in darkness it is possible to create light.” JN