US President Bill Clinton wrote that he had spent his life trying to advance the idea that our common humanity matters more than our interesting differences, and to work for a world in which we are coming together, not being torn apart. This is an ideal the Cape Board embraces heartily and it tries not to miss an opportunity to further this. September provided us with several such occasions.
One of which was the chance to host Rabbi David Sandmel, Director of Interreligious engagement at the Anti-Defamation League, to an interfaith lunch. He had chaired the Jewish Studies Department at the Chicago Catholic Theological Union, and been vice-chair of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the body tasked with working with the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox churches. He was also involved in dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims and went last year to Abu Dhabi to participate in the World Forum for Peace in Muslim Societies. He also leads interfaith study trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
There was great interest in his talk and among the guests were Archbishop Brislin, Imam Keraan, Baptist Professor Dan McVey (Abilene Christian University, Texas), Muslim Professor of Political Science, Dr Elham Manea (Zurich University), Dr Taj Hargey from the Oxford Muslim Educational Centre, Rabbi Brian Opert, Rev Berry Behr, and Rev Peter Fox.
Rabbi Sandmel had come to Cape Town via Harare where he had been teaching Catholic seminarians about Judaism. He advocated for faith communities to form alliances so that they could stand up for each other and work together and speak out about hate crimes in consultation with the local communities. All minorities were targets.
The issue of Israel and Palestine could be a stumbling block in Jewish-Muslim relationships but that was happening on the other side of the world and one should not import those issues into discussions. People needed to learn how to disagree and talk to each other respectfully without letting it interfere with relationships.
“We are watching our society breaking up into little groups, identifying ‘the other’ as dangerous. Hate is a growth industry — that is why I have job security”, Rabbi Sandmel joked. “If you are not in dialogue, you are not going anywhere.”
September also heralded the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative Religious Heritage Day Bus Tour, visiting the Gardens Shul, the Jewish Museum, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Meditation Centre and the Shiite Mosque where they enjoyed a vegetarian lunch. Prejudice is fuelled by ignorance and few people have ever visited a house of worship from another faith community, which is why Gwynne initiated these tours eight years ago. Stuart Diamond and Gwynne Robins both participated and spoke to the group and the guests were most appreciative of the welcome packs from the Cape Board.
The Board thanks Rabbi Feldman for welcoming the participants into the shul and addressing them so inspiringly and warmly. May we all learn to appreciate our common humanity.
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