|The Interfaith Youth Choir performs under the direction of Gale S. Bindeglass and Cantor Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon. Courtesy of UJA-NNJ.|
Sikhs wore turbans. Muslim women wore headscarves. Jews wore yarmulkes. Some Christians wore clerical collars.
Bergen County’s diverse religious groups were on display Sunday as the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County celebrated its 25th anniversary with a luncheon that drew 350 people to the Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe.
Many other communities have interfaith councils, said Joy Kurland, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, as she received an award for her efforts for the interfaith committee. But, she added, “not one other community I know of has representatives of eight different faith communities.”
The committee began its work 25 years ago, representing Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Since then, it has added representation from the Baha’i, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, and Sikh communities.
“We have explored commonalities and explored differences. Through interfaith dialogue and education, we have built an atmosphere of respect,” said Kurland, who represents the Jewish community on the interfaith committee.
The urgency and necessity of interfaith work was emphasized by the keynote speaker, the Rev. Eileen W. Lindner, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Tenafly. Lindner has served as deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
For centuries, she said, “our faith traditions have been very happy to live in isolation from one another. In fact we rather loved it. It was comfortable.”
However, said Lindner, “that’s a luxury the 21st-century world can no longer afford. We must say no to the conflicts between our faith traditions.
“The 20th century left a deadly heritage of interfaith conflict. And I confess that my tradition, Christianity, contributed more than its share to the legacy of interfaith conflict.
“The Creator of the cosmos beckons us into this [interfaith] work. It is a vocation, a calling. We work together to bring understanding in a world of misunderstanding and conflict.
“In a world inclined to separatism, there can be no worse indictment of faith itself than the fact that 45,000 people a day die in religiously informed conflicts. [This is] an indictment of all of us.
“Secularism wins when religion is the basis for the most destructive element in the community. Religion has been exploited for geopolitical purposes and personal gain. We must elevate interfaith relationships as the roadbed of the pathway to peace,” she said.
Lindner told a story of when her son, now 30, was in seventh grade.
“I remember when he went off to Temple Sinai for his friend David’s bar mitzvah. I drove him to the temple and later to the Clinton Inn and later picked him up after the party. He had a great time.
“But he was a little crestfallen. I said, ‘Andrew, what’s wrong?’
“You need to understand: Presbyterians don’t confirm their young adults until they’re in ninth grade.
“He said, ‘Mom, do you realize that by the end of the year all of my friends will be men and I will still be a boy?'”
“I’m still proud that my son said that; I’m proud because he took David’s religious tradition as seriously as he took his own. He believed, absolutely believed, that his friend David had that day become a man.”
That is the essence of the interfaith enterprise, she said – “not to try to persuade you that my religious tradition is right, but to so understand and appreciate your tradition that I honor you in it.”
Lindner said that interfaith work demands joint action for social justice.
“The world beckons us not to talk about our faith together but to live it out together in places where the world is broken,” she said.
“We cannot underestimate the power of persons of diverse faith giving witness to social justice and social empowerment,” she said. “Think of the interfaith coalitions for the homeless, the interfaith coalition on the environment. Think of the civil rights movement.”
“There are many opportunities. We have issues of hunger and homelessness and joblessness” here in Bergen County, she said.