Thursday, August 27, 2020

Academic Article Just Published: Women in Interfaith Dialogue

Hello, friends! 

I am very happy to share that I have just had an academic article published this week in the Journal of Interreligious Studies (JIRS). My piece is called, "Women in Religious Leadership and Interfaith Dialogue: The Challenges Faced and Possible Solutions."

It appears in a special edition of the journal in which all of the articles are authored by Russell Berrie alumni (Russell Berrie being the fellowship program I did in Rome my year after college, back in 2013-2014). They published this special Russell Berrie edition to celebrate 10 years of the Russell Berrie Fellowship program, and I was honored to be invited to contribute a piece.

It was important to me to bring some of the challenges I have seen and faced in these spaces to the forefront, because I care so much about this work and want to make sure we fully include as many people as possible who want to join us. I am hopeful that the issues I raise help us move forward on some of these issues, so that we can find ways to offer fuller participation to women and others in the multifaith spaces in which I work. 

Please feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, ideas for how we can improve diversity in these spaces, notes on things I missed, or anything else that comes to mind.

Direct link to article: Allyson's Article in Issue 30 of JIRS

Link to all the articles in this issue: Entirety of Issue 30 of JIRS

Now go out and love one another.

<3,

Allyson



Sunday, March 22, 2020

I Am Grateful

Hello, friends.

To say the world feels like it is falling apart would be an understatement for many of us. How often does literally the entire planet go through such an imminent and enormous challenge together?

With all of the acknowledgment I can offer of the immense and overwhelming struggles everyone is facing right now, I wanted to temporarily set aside my anxiety and compile a list of things for which I am immensely grateful in this moment. Some may resonate with you, some may really not resonate with you, but my hope is that we can all try to shift our mindset even slightly away from the panic briefly and to a perspective of gratitude and hope.
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Blessings in a Time of Uncertainty: I Am Grateful
  • I am grateful for my family currently being safe and healthy.
  • I am grateful that I have enough food and supplies to last me for some time.
  • I am grateful that I am young and fairly healthy, and so hopefully less at risk for significant consequences, should I be exposed to this virus.
  • I am grateful for my family and friends who were able to join as I helped lead virtual services last Shabbat through my internship.
  • I am grateful for my friends who are able to balance sharing their own worries and helping care for mine. 
  • I am grateful for the scientific advances of the past century that mean we can know that staying home right now and social distancing are ways to slow the spread of this disease.
  • I am grateful for communications networks on a global scale that means we in the U.S. have some forewarning of what is to come.
  • I am grateful for video chat services that mean I have video chatted with more friends and family in the past two weeks than I have in probably the past year.
  • I am grateful that being alone does not have to mean being lonely.
  • I am grateful that technology exists so that I can continue to do my work and schoolwork.
  • I am grateful that my jobs are able to some extent to transition online and I do not need to worry about income during this event.
  • I am grateful that the weather is getting warmer.
  • I am grateful for flowers.
  • I am grateful that my mother started encouraging me to buy extra supplies a few weeks ago so that it was a calmer experience than it could have been.
  • I am grateful to have a car to make getting supplies easier at a time when it is best to avoid public transportation as much as possible.
  • I am grateful to be here as an emerging baby rabbi so that I can learn how to better respond to those in need during a crisis.
  • I am grateful for political leaders who are taking necessary bold actions to protect the public.
  • I am grateful to take a break from driving to so many places as I usually have to do so much.
  • I am grateful for the immensely holy work we are all doing now in tandem, by altering our lives so drastically now to save more lives later.
  • I am grateful that the earth is getting a break from all sorts of things that negatively affect our environment.
  • I am grateful for all the incredible souls who must go out now and continue to keep the world running at such a scary time--the grocery workers and the medical professionals and the delivery people and the farmers and all the amazing people who have to live in this anxiety and still function so that we can all live.
  • I am grateful that we are all in this together.
  • I am grateful.
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If the goal of multifaith work is to bring people together across lines of difference to increase understanding, respect, and peace, what better example do we have than the whole world banding together to protect each other in this time of desperate need? I try to draw inspiration from the enormous effort happening right now by folks of all backgrounds around the world, and let it carry me through the difficult moments.

May we all find strength in this time, find ways to build resilience of our minds and hearts, and know that we are stronger together.

Now go out and love one another (from a distance).

<3,
Allyson

So many flowers

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Short Interview with Me

Hello, friends!

Hartford Seminary--an awesome interfaith seminary where people who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and some other folks come together to study religion together, where I studied in 2017-2018--recently put together a document celebrating 15 years of their International Peacemaking Program, which I was honored to be a part of. And they kindly interviewed me for the booklet!

I am including the image here, and a link below, for anyone looking to stalk my brain some more.


Stay safe out there, and go out and love one another (from a distance, sans touching).

<3,
Allyson

Friday, December 13, 2019

National Interfaith Dialogues

Hello, friends.

Today, and every day, we sadly still see so much misunderstanding and pain and hatred around the world.

But we also see so much hope--so many people doing this multifaith work, forming relationships, defending each other against attack day after day. We need to keep that optimism, and remember that each and every one of us has the ability every day to make it better--in our speech, in how we treat others even those we just see on the streets, all of it. Please join me in being intentional in this and other good work--it's as simple as smiling at a woman in a hijab, who likely faces harassment every day. Or giving up your seat on public transit to someone who happens to be wearing a turban--just as you would for anyone else. Making it normal to see and honor diversity, even in these small ways. End rant.
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I have recently begun describing how interfaith dialogue happens on a number of levels--the local, national, and international. I've been fortunate to get to participate across these three levels, but particularly had some great opportunities recently on the national scene that I wanted to share with you. I'll share a brief look at local and international, before diving into the national scene. Please note that while these categories are inspired by some conversations I had in 2019, they're largely how I'm choosing to divide things out for my brain and not necessarily accepted ways of dividing things out.

Local Interfaith Dialogue
Perhaps this is what some of you think of most when I talk about "interfaith dialogue." I'm using this category to define things happening among people on a local level--in communities, among people who often live near each other, and may be serving as pseudo-representatives of their faith to others, but are not official "representatives" as such.

This would include bringing together a synagogue and a mosque for an iftar (break fast) meal during Ramadan. It would include having Hebrew school students visit a local church to learn from the pastor about how their congregation thinks about tzedakah (helping others, giving to charity). It might be an annual interfaith clergy meeting that takes place among religious leaders in the same geographical area. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a great one. I would include in this category, for example, when I brought together Jewish rabbinical students and Christian seminarians this past spring in Philadelphia for dinner and dialogue.

Essentially, this category is people coming together for dialogue or learning (hopefully both) around topics of mutual interest--whether that is sharing with the other group(s) more about their beliefs or holidays, coming together to do community social action, things like that. But the main thing I would say this is not is something that includes an attempt at "official" representative from a national organization--it is more based in the local community, and can include lay people and clergy.

International Interfaith Dialogue
I would define international interfaith dialogue as any dialogue happening between those who do not live in the same country.

To me, this could include such dialogues that are not "official" representatives. So this could include, for example, the various international conferences I have been fortunate to attend over the years, like in Azerbaijan in July where I was with about 70 young people interested in multifaith work from countries all around the world as part of the ACWAY project. It would include me talking to someone from Sudan, for example, about my faith when I was in Baku--even though neither of us came to the meeting as specific representatives of our religion or countries, per se.

Alternatively, international dialogues could also include officially representative dialogues--the chief rabbi of Britain meeting with the Pope, for example, because it is still a dialogue occurring between those who do not live in the same country and there is an element of dialogue and/or learning. It would include the Emerging Leaders Conference I went to in Lithuania last year, which is a dialogue between young Jews and Catholics and felt somewhat more officially representative of two different groups.

It can also include groups that are somewhat official, somewhat not. I have been fortunate to spend some time with Fr. Norbert Hofmann*--the secretary of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews--but while he may be an official representative for the Catholic folks, I am slightly different in my role in those meetings (representing myself and my take on Judaism individually, not for all Jews, which would be tough). Because we live in different countries, I consider this international interfaith dialogue. So it could also be mixed with some official representatives and some not.

Due to the lack of "official" representatives of faiths in most communities (no single "Jew" represents "all Jews" in the U.S.), the amount that this happens officially beyond a few specific examples is limited, I suspect. There is a chief rabbi of Britain, a few chief rabbis in Israel, of course the Vatican for Catholics, then I suspect some official Muslim representatives in Muslim-majority countries, and more beyond that. But it is not quite the same as how essentially every country around the world has diplomats--religions tend not to be as official in that way, at least not everywhere. So, many of these international dialogues happen all the time and garner various amounts of attention, regardless of whether they are "official" or not.

National Interfaith Dialogue
Now this is the realm I have most recently been fortunate to start getting involved in more deeply. I would define national interfaith dialogue as dialogue that happens among people of different faiths who live in the same country, and can be in an official or unofficial capacity, as well.

In unofficial dialogues, my argument would be that there would need to be some broad representation of folks from different parts of the country to qualify it as national as opposed to local (so folks from a number of different states in different regions of the U.S., for example, not just states in the Northeast, which I would consider somewhere like "regional" not local, not national).

Official dialogues could include people officially representing national organizations that are somehow considered official representatives of their faith tradition. Perhaps the person working as interfaith representative at the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), for example, being in dialogue with a representative of one of the Jewish movements.

Catholic-Jewish
In November, I was fortunate to be able to attend a dialogue that happens twice a year between the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)--aka, the Jews and the Catholics. Chaired by Rabbi David Straus (a Reform Rabbi in Philadelphia who has kindly spoken with me about multifaith questions multiple times) and Cardinal Timothy Dolan (out of New York). I was officially representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA), the rabbinical union for the Reconstructionists, which was very exciting--I was not an observer, but a participant.

The theme of the day was refugees, and we met in NYC. The room had about 30 people in it, 15 on each side. The Jewish side was mostly rabbis, the Catholic side priests, with a number of bishops. About 26 of the participants were men, and 4 of us were women (2 on each side). I was one of maybe 3 representatives under the age of 50, and I would guess 95% of the room were in their 60s-80s. So I was quite out of the norm for the room--not least of all because it seemed nearly all the men opted for black suits, so it was a line of men all in black suits and mostly all in their 60s-80s. And then me, sticking out for my age, gender, navy/floral outfit. I would love a cartoon of how that table looked. Important to note, nearly everyone in the room was seemingly white (though I am also Latina, and of course folks can be people of color without appearing so).

I do not want to dive in here to the very, very important topic of the day (most of you know I worked on issues related to Syrian refugees and IDPs for a number of years with a multifaith non-profit in NYC), but instead the fact of the meeting itself. It was about building relationships. This group meets twice a year, and so many of the people have gotten to know each other over time. This is seemingly the highest-level national dialogue between the Jews and the Catholics (that is not political), with the caveat that that NCS is composed of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist members so the liberal end of the Jewish spectrum. The Orthodox folks apparently have separate dialogues, likely due to differences in how we view certain things. Intrafaith dialogue, a topic for another day (though I was on a panel with a Conservative rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi this week).

As you can tell, I was struck by how out of place I was demographically--for my age, for my gender. I was grateful to be there, excited to be an official participant, and aware of dynamics of joining a group that is so established, and so dominated by people sharing so many demographics which I do not. I will continue to attend as long as I am able. Here is a quick note from the USCCB on the meeting.

Christian-Jewish
The next meeting I went to was the National Council of Synagogues and National Council of Churches (NCC) dialogue this month, a meeting which also happens twice a year and also is apparently the highest-level Jewish-Christian (Protestant/Orthodox) dialogue in the nation. (I am not sure how better to define the dialogue--Christian denominations other than Catholic? Also, Catholics are Christian but do not seem to generally attend this one, even as an observer since I think they have observer status in the NCC. But I do not enjoy defining folks by what they are not, yet the NCC seems to be many of the Christian groups outside the Catholic Church. I welcome suggestions for better phrasing around this!)

There are official representatives of a variety of Jewish and Christian organizations around the table, including me again as one of the participants representing the RRA. There were about 25 people, divided evenly between the two sides, with 5 women in total. I was once again the youngest, and even more significantly felt it in this room (my guess would be the next youngest after me was 15-20 years old than me, with most of the rest of the participants in their 50s-70s). We actually did a specific activity around self-identifying our race at this meeting, so I can say with more authority that nearly all of the room identified as white, with one gentleman who was African American, and two of us who opted to be in a category of "more than one." (#Latina)

The meeting this month took place in Pittsburgh, a decision that was made to at once learn about the tragic shooting in a synagogue there last October (seemingly the largest antisemitic attack here in the history of our country), and to stand in solidarity. We visited the outside of the Tree of Life synagogue where the horrible attack happened, with its tributes and moving art displays. I fought back tears at being there. We took a bus tour of the city, learning about the Jewish community there. We spoke in the group about antisemitism and racism and security for houses of worship.

It was an intensely emotional two days, and also a good opportunity to form deeper relationships with those in the room. Once again, the dynamics of gender were certainly present. I was grateful for the individuals who made a distinct effort to spend time learning about me and my background, since I am so new to the group and so out-of-the-norm for group demographics, but also experienced in interfaith work. I hope to also be involved in this group as long as I am able. The minutes of the meeting will be shared at some point by the organizers.
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All in all, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to participate in these dialogues. I am so young, and female--and proud to bring that perspective to these important tables. For me, it is critical to have multifaith work going on at all three of these levels--they achieve slightly different objectives.

On the local level is sometimes where the deepest relationships can generally form, because people can have regular, meaningful contact. People can find their perspectives changed on a truly deep level as they form relationships with those in their community.

The national level is important for forming these relationships, though everyone can devote less time to deepening the relationships because we are further spread out geographically and have different obligations; but beyond that on that level, showing the world that the Catholics and the Jews, the Christians and the Jews, are officially in regular dialogue, and for decades, sends a strong message. It also allows for coordination on the national scene, which can account for discussing issues facing the particular country at that particular time (like when we spoke at the meeting in Pittsburgh about racism, something very present in U.S. discussions, particularly now).

The international level of interfaith dialogue can be a mix of some deeper relationships (and I have some very close friends I've met through these opportunities), though certainly generally limited even further by space and time--though I wish I could see some of my international interfaith friends more often. But the international work is also a way of showing the world that not only are people of different faiths in dialogue and working together toward peace, but we are doing it on a global scale. There is little I can think of that is more powerful than that.

Now, as so many winter holidays of light approach, please go out and love one another. Happy holidays, chaverim.**