In today’s climate, now is the time to reach out to other communities to share our cultures and learn about different beliefs. A little over a month ago, my mom and I were invited to an interfaith dinner at a local mosque, where we were introduced to the Islamic faith, food and what a service looked like. They had a speaker there who instead of talking about differences, talked about the similarities between the Abrahamic religions. It was a very eye-opening experience and I wanted to share it with my youth group, BITY.
At the event, I found out that the mosque, the Islamic Center of the Northeast Valley, also had a youth group, and then I decided that BITY should host an interfaith event at our synagogue. I talked to a friend who belonged to the mosque about ways we could have a youth event together, and then proposed the idea to my amazing youth group adviser. Within a few days, we had an event scheduled and we invited the mosque youth group to participate in community building activities with BITY. The event took place on March 31 at Congregation Beth Israel.
The night started out with an amazing Shabbat service led by Kara Sherman, our youth group’s religious and cultural vice president, and our songleader, Zach Schawelson. Sherman set the tone for the night by incorporating leadership and community involvement themes throughout the Shabbat service.
The room was packed full with families and youth alike. After the service, many of our guests expressed how welcomed they felt, and were very grateful for being invited to share in our worship. The evening continued in our temple’s museum, where my youth group had the privilege of observing the Islamic evening prayer. Just like our Shabbat service was led by our youth, their call to worship was also led by their youth and their Imam (their religious leader).
All of the Jewish youth who came to the event found this extremely enlightening and interesting. Following this, we enjoyed a yummy dinner, where we sat with new people. During dinner, we had three members from each religion come up and give two-minute speeches about different aspects of their faith. They covered culture, values, services and holidays. Throughout the speeches, I learned about some differences, but also how similar we all are.
Following the speeches, we had an ice-breaker game, where participants were able to make more friends and have a few laughs. Our last activity of the night was a religious similarities competition. The participants were split into interfaith teams and they had five minutes to see which team could come up with the most similarities between Islam and Judaism as possible. It was a close race and our winning team was able to find more than 30 similarities!
After the event, as we were cleaning up, we invited our new friends from the mosque to hangout with us at a local ice cream shop, not knowing if they’d actually come. To our delight, they did meet up with us in a much less formal setting at the ice cream shop. We stayed, ate and talked for about an hour, sharing more stories and becoming better friends. While leaving the ice cream place, I was so happy, yet unsure, about how the event was perceived because I had been running around making sure things were going smoothly the entire time. When I expressed this to a friend who had come to the event, he said, “The fact that their youth group came to hang out with us after the event had ended proved its success. This was the very best outcome you could have wished for.”
After all the hours that were put into programming for this event, its success was really because of everyone’s participation and openness to learning new things that they weren’t familiar with. I am so thankful to have programmed for this event and cannot wait to see what the future holds for further interfaith events. Special shout-out to my amazing advisor, Jessielyn Kreitzer, Rabbi Stephen Kahn, Rabbi Rony Keller and the entire Congregation Beth Israel community for making this event possible and successful.
Lindsay Schawelson is an 11th-grader who is the programming vice president for BITY, Congregation Beth Israel’s youth group.