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The Common Heart Project

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Attending Keneseth Israel's Interfaith Program and Luncheon

Today I attended the Women of Keneseth Israel’s annual Interfaith Program and Luncheon. I’ve lived in this area nearly my whole life and never have entered this synagogue on the corner of Old York Road and Township Line Road. Driving up, I immediately was struck by the engraving on the building: THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF. Then entering through the main entrance, I saw a large banner printed with, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God the Lord is One.” These scriptures felt familiar and welcoming. I felt hopeful and excited to be a part of this gathering.

There was a beautiful, long bench in the front entry hall made out of individually-shaped flat wooden rods placed in such a way that they created a wave form that you could sit and lean back on. The overall look was striated yet fluid. On a table nearby I saw informational pamphlets about the congregation and community events and offerings. I felt at once at home and yet a stranger. I felt at home in the sentiment of this faith community yet not at all familiar with its culture, its history, its ongoing liveliness and activity. Richard Rohr says the wisdom stage of life is the ability to hold paradoxes within yourself and in your life. I breathed recognizing the paradox of valuing all faith traditions while honoring each community’s freedom to fully root themselves as unique and distinct. It seems so counterintuitive, to hold both of these realities inclusively. It is so easy to fall into an “us and them” mentality between our distinct communities, but we have to work against that by taking actions that are enlightened by our awareness of this paradox. When we hold the paradox of distinct identity and shared humanity, we can create something that is at once curving and straight, stable and fluid, like the bench in the front hall of Keneseth Israel.

We settled in the Korn Sanctuary for the program, surrounded by Jacob Landau's breathtaking and expansive stained glass window series, "The Prophetic Quest." The event’s theme was, “Changing the World One Friendship at a Time.” I was moved by the speakers on the panel. Powerful stories were shared of going beyond what is familiar and yet finding that “familiar” follows and expands. Rev. Nicole Diroff, Associate Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia emphasized the importance of faith communities naming interfaith relations a priority. It seems to me people have energy and affirmation for honoring, respecting, and understanding other faith communities, but it takes individuals choosing to take a step and make containers and spaces for others to live into the reality of genuine interfaith connections to bring about real, lasting change. It was powerful to hear and witness how each member of the panel and all those involved in putting on the event have in their own way made spaces for bonds of interfaith trust to form.

After the program, we were served a delicious meal in the Krauskopf-Ginsburg Auditorium. The room was full with several tables set, each with a certain colored balloon. We were each given a colored paper clip on our way in, so we sat randomized at the table with the matching colored balloon. Sitting at a table, sharing a meal with nine other people from four or more different faith communities was indelible. I’m thankful for Keneseth Israel’s offering to the greater community of this time and space for allowing us to live into the multi-faith paradox and for advancing interfaith connections in the greater Philadelphia area.

Chelsea Odhner1 Comment