This week saw the second of four planned meetings between middle school students from The Davis Academy and The Marist School. Initiated last year, The Davis Academy and The Marist School have made a commitment to instilling the value of interfaith partnership and dialogue in students during their 7th and 8th grade years.
Davis Academy students arrived at The Marist School where we were greeted by the now familiar faces of Marist students, faculty, and administration. Given that this meeting took place during the intermediate days of the festival of Sukkot, we focused on the themes of hospitality and “sukkat shalom” or “shelters of peace and understanding.” Of particular interest to Davis students was the connection between hospitality and “The Marist Way.” Davis and Marist students symbolically made a “sukkat shalom” together on Marist’s football field, and then took a few moments to think about what it means to build something together. Afterwards we spent time in small group discussion, completed a scavenger hunt on the Marist campus, and participated in an interfaith worship service in the Marist chapel that included readings from the Torah as well as the New Testament and 12 petitions in honor of the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles, as well as the joint singing of the song “Zeh HaYom” (a song based on Psalm 118 from The Davis Academy’s CD of original Jewish music: Be a Blessing). Members of both faculties helped students navigate the unfamiliar territory of interfaith dialogue and understanding.
One of the core competencies that is lacking in the broader world and that is at the center of the Davis/Marist partnership is that of interfaith dialogue. Unlike casual conversation, interfaith dialogue requires a different set of skills and different expectations. The goal of interfaith dialogue is not only to find common ground but also to celebrate difference. Unlike casual conversation where awkward pauses and misunderstandings are to be avoided at all cost, interfaith dialogue both can and sometimes should be a bit uncomfortable or feel a bit forced. Middle school students (and the rest of us) need to be warned and reminded that interfaith dialogue is different from casual conversation. They need to be taught certain techniques such as rephrasing, checking for understanding, asking clarifying and probing questions, and deep listening. They also need ample opportunities to practice these skills in safe environments where they can get feedback and become comfortable.
My personal belief that interfaith dialogue is critical toward creating a more peaceful and understanding world was 100% reinforced in this most recent meeting between Davis and Marist. I’m proud to work at a Jewish day school like Davis that sees this work as central to our mission, vision, and purpose. And I’m grateful to our friends and colleagues at Marist for partnering in this work with us.