Faith groups find common ground at annual brunch
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Faith groups find common ground at annual brunch

When it comes to religion, there is as much that unites us as divides us. That was the message sounded by representatives of eight of the world’s faiths at the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County annual brunch Sunday.

This year’s brunch was hosted by the Jain community, followers of an ancient creed born in India that stresses non-violence and a reverence for all forms of life.

The interfaith group also encompasses the Baha’i, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, and Sikh communities. Some 350 attended the 23d annual event at the Glenpointe Marriott in Teaneck.

In separate interviews, representatives of the various faiths spoke of their common thread.

Father Donald Sheehan is one of the committee veterans, having participated for the past 22 years. “We’re all children of God,” said Sheehan of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Ridgefield. “We must have the ability to accept people as they are, and stand behind and have respect for one another’s religious experience.”

“We are different faiths that respect each other,” said Pat Kinney of Leonia, speaking of the Baha’i faith. “We believe there is one God,” she said. “We come together and realize that the fundamental beliefs are not far apart.”

There is unity in diversity, said Harkishan Singh Jassal of Clifton, speaking of the Sikh community. “We do not have a melting pot,” Jassal said, but rather a “bouquet of flowers. Each flower has its own fragrance.”

Artul Prakash of Cedar Grove spoke for Hinduism, saying “We have different paths for getting there,” but we share the concept of God. “What has divided us is the feeling that our own way is the only way, but that’s the wrong message,” he said.

“We all believe in the Creator,” said Imam Saeed Qureshi of Teaneck. “The details might be different, but we all believe in God,” he said.

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Hema Pokharna speaks on “Non-violence: A beacon of hope for all seasons.” Photos by KEN HILFMAN
“Although there are differences, we all believe in the spiritual component of life,” said Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes and the chairman of the Intergroup Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “This is a tremendously enriching process for all of us,” he said.

The Rev. Donald Pitches of the First Presbyterian Church of Carlstadt saw the session as “people of various faiths, devout in their own beliefs but committed to cooperation.” “That’s the way the world needs to function,” he said.

“There is a desire to work together, to build bridges, to emphasize the things we have in common,” said Daniel Kirsch, chairman of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council. “Our moral values are very consistent,” he said.

The event was facilitated by Joy Kurland, the JCRC director. “It was a wonderful showing of our beautiful diversity here in Bergen County,” Kurland said of the brunch.

“If we could all sing and dance together the world would be a better place,” said event moderator Naresh Jain as the gathering began.

With those words, the assemblage was treated to a rendition of “America the Beautiful” by the Interfaith Youth Choir, a group of 18 youngsters representing the various religions. They were under the direction of Gale S. Bindelglass with Cantor Ilan Mamber on the guitar and Jane Koch, both of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff .

They were followed by a spirited, colorful dance performance by Jain girls symbolizing the victory of non-violence over violence.

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Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein, representing the Jewish community, delivers a “Prayer for Unity” during the event’s closing ceremonies. He is flanked by Dinesh Chheda of the Jain community, left, and Dr. Atul Prakash of the Hindu community.

Vinay Bakani of Oradell said that reverence for life is key, and that includes animal and plant life. Bakani explained that Jains believe all living things have a soul.

Dr. Hema Pokharna, the keynote speaker, started her academic career as a biochemist and now teaches spirituality and medicine at the University of Chicago.

Before taking the podium, the Indian-born scientist detailed her belief that the power to cure “resides within us.” While medicines are needed, the key to healing is meditation and harmony. For more information on her views, see journeysoflife.org.

Speaking of non-violent action, the Indian-born Pokharna told the gathering that “sitting still has been advocated since ancient times.”

“Buddha sat still under a tree, Jesus sat still in a garden, Muhammad sat still in a cave,” she said. “And Gandhi and King and thousands of others have brought sitting still to perfection.”

Quoting from the teachings her faith, Pokharna concluded, “Live such a life, be such a person, that if every person were you, the world would be a paradise.”

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