Twenty years ago, when Mickey Glass headed the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and Dayan Gross was the director of the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies, both were very involved in organising the 1999 Parliament of the World Religions, hosted in Cape Town to celebrate the miracle of South Africa’s peaceful transition to democratic rule.
After the meeting, a decision was taken to continue the Parliament of the World Religions’ mission by establishing a body in Cape Town to further the acceptance and recognition of the diversity and equality of religions. The Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII) was formed, and the impact on the city over the past two decades has been remarkable.
Previously, major events would be opened with a prayer by a dominee. These days, such events include ministers from many faith communities, and CTII’s interfaith events, including the Heritage Day bus tour, have involved thousands of people over the years.
The work of the CTII culminated in international recognition, when its chairperson Berry Behr and its former director James Ellmann travelled to Jordan in May this year to be awarded first prize by HM King Abdullah II for their participation in United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week. The prize was awarded for an event they had organised at a site in Elsie’s River that had been recently reclaimed by the community after it had become a crime hotspot. The CTII never for a moment expected their simple event to receive such wonderful international attention.
The Cape Board has been involved with CTII in an executive capacity since its inception, with Gwynne Robins, for many years acting as its secretary, and currently elected onto its Advisory Council. At its recent AGM Stuart Diamond was elected as the CTII’s honorary treasurer.
Stuart has said that he feels honoured to serve an organisation that helps to build interfaith relations in the Western Cape.
“If we want our city to have no place for hate we have to inculcate in all its citizens a spirit of acceptance of all its citizens, no matter their skin colour, faith, beliefs or culture. Through our engagement with the organisation, we have strengthened our relationships with Ananda Kutir, Baha’i, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Christian, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Khoisan, Muslim and other communities, all of whom make up our city.”
As Berry Behr, CTII director summed it up so beautifully at its AGM, “We plan to continue as we have started, serving the communities of Cape Town with compassion, joy and kindness. As we learn more about each other, we make friends, and when we make friends, we look out for each other. We become safer”
And the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies is happy to assist in such work.