The Value of Interfaith Dialogue

A remarkable week ended on a remarkable note at The Davis Academy Middle School. We hosted 150 students from The Marist School for a day of interfaith dialogue and relationship building.

It has been a remarkable week. The Jewish community commemorated Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). As Americans we watched in horror as the Boston Marathon bombing took place. As human beings we grieved for the loss of life in West, Texas. It has been a remarkable week.

Since coming to The Davis Academy I have dreamed of creating a context wherein our students could meaningfully explore matters of faith with peers of different faith backgrounds. Several years ago I was invited to be a guest lecturer at The Marist School, a local Catholic middle and high school. Eventually I found a counterpart at Marist, and we assembled a team of educators who were motivated to bring our 7th grade students together. Today we had the privilege of hosting these students and many of their outstanding faculty.

The goals of our interfaith dialogue program at this point are threefold: 1) to build relationships based on mutual respect between adolescents of different faith backgrounds, 2) to teach students how to engage in intentional dialogue on matters of faith, and 3) to partner in faith-based community service. Today we made great strides in actualizing goals 1 and 2.

Davis Academy 7th graders gathered in our gymnasium a few moments before the Marist students arrived. We had been preparing for their visit for several weeks. For example, we asked our students what kinds of questions they thought Marist students might have for their Davis counterparts. We also asked them what questions they had for their Marist counterparts. We also brainstormed different things we hoped to share with our guests and also reviewed what it means to be welcoming and gracious hosts. The energy in the room was palpable.

The centerpieces of today’s program were twofold: 1) we broke into small groups, facilitated by faculty members, to do, “I’ve always wondered.” Students  from both schools had the chance to ask and answer one another’s questions in a safe and respectful environment. When we reflected with our Davis students later in the day they identified this is a highlight. Topics ranged from: kashrut to Santa Claus, Lent to belief in God, Jewish ritual clothing to the Gospels and much more. Without fail, faculty members who facilitated the groups reported great conversations, active listening, and mutual respect. One teacher characterized the meeting in Buberian terms: I-Thou.

The second centerpiece was Kabbalat Shabbat. Since the program was held at The Davis Academy on a Friday morning we felt that we should share a central part of our community’s identity: Kabbalat Shabbat. Almost 1/2 of the grade volunteered to help lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Marist students were given the option of wearing kippot and most chose to do so, and also took them home as a memento of their visit. Davis students shared what Shabbat means to them, we took out our Torah scroll, and recited the Shabbat blessings.  At the end, Marist’s priest and I joined together in offering the Priestly Benediction to a group of Marist and Davis students who were celebrating their birthdays. We all shared challah and grape juice and made promises to reunite in the Fall.

Today the city of Watertown is under siege. Today is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing as well as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. For The Davis Academy and the Marist School, today is the beginning of a friendship that we hope will change the world one teenager at a time.

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