Jewish learning Hebrew College Co-Hosts International Council of Christians and Jews this June: Campus Partners Share Insights on Multi-faith Collaboration

By Joshua Polanski

This June 18-21, our campus community aims to make a substantive contribution to Christian-Jewish dialogue at the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) 2023 Conference.

The annual conference of the ICCJ, which has 34 national Jewish-Christian dialogue organizations worldwide and was instrumental in the interreligious documents defined at the Catholic Church’s world-changing Second Vatican Council, will be hosted in Boston with two full days spent at Hebrew College.

The conference’s first visit to New England, this June, will be co-hosted by Hebrew College’s Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership on our new shared campus. The innovative new campus, where Hebrew College and our organizational partners are based, is more than a shared physical space. The bold partnerships we facilitate also mark a shared vision for the Jewish future. And that future, according to Rabbi Or Rose, founding director of the Miller Center and conference co-chair, “must include deepening interreligious and cross-cultural cooperation.” This shared vision for a flourishing and interconnected world will be on display at the ICCJ 2023 Conference: “Negotiating Multiple Identities: Implications for Interreligious Relations.”

Additional hosts of the ICCJ 2023 Conference include the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College, and the Council of Centers on Jewish Christian Relations (CCJR). “It is an honor to serve as a co-host of this timely international gathering. I look forward to sharing our work and learning from impassioned theoreticians and practitioners from near and far,” said Rabbi Rose, who will be part of a panel titled “Exploring the Intersectional Legacy of Rev. Howard Thurman” in addition to leading a workshop on contemporary interreligious readings of the Psalms.

For Rabbi Dan Berman of Temple Reyim, one of Hebrew College’s shared campus partners, his participation emerges from experiences close to his heart. The Hebrew College ordained rabbi has been meeting with a small group of rabbis and Black Christian clergy weekly for the past three years. “After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, I reached out to a Black pastor who serves a Baptist, multi-racial church in Dorchester, MA to express concern and solidarity. We began a serious conversation about the state of our communities—internally and in relation to each other,” said Rabbi Berman.

In addition to practical learning and sharing of experiences, Berman said, “We have developed very meaningful relationships with one another. This combination of deep learning and open-hearted, caring relationships has helped us see critical issues of race and faith among the Black Christian and Jewish communities in new ways, impacting our ministries and our lives.” Alongside Irene Monroe, Rabbi Berman will present “When the Outside and Inside Tell Different Stories: A Reverend and Rabbi Discuss Religious Identity, Public Perception and Race” at ICCJ 2023.

Participation in the gathering is also personally meaningful for Rabbi Michael Shire of Hebrew College. In addition to teaching future rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators, Shire is the rabbi at Central Reform Temple of Boston. A unique arrangement, Central Reform Temple meets at Emmanuel Church, an Episcopalian church in the Back Bay, and shares a “covenantal relationship” with the church. For more than a decade, they have shared a building and worshipped in the same space, but wanted to move beyond that, to something deeper and more fundamental: a covenant between the two communities. “We want to learn from one another, so that our Judaism might be enriched by being in the presence of those who are faithful to Christianity and that their Christianity might be enriched by being in the presence of those who are faithful to their Jewish roots and heritage,” added Shire. Rabbi Shire and his clergy partner, Rev. Pamela Werntz, rector of Emanuel Church, will share their work in a workshop entitled, “A Covenantal Relationship between Church and Synagogue.”

Though it is certainly consonant with their pluralistic organizational mission, creative campus partner Jewish Arts Collaborative is not regularly involved in interfaith work. “At JArts, we use the arts as a tool to share particular and universal values, and to help share Jewish tradition with people of all backgrounds. In speaking to the conference leadership, I realized that we shared these values—and that our Be The Change public art movement is actually a prime example of how we use art to bring people together across backgrounds,” said Laura Mandel, the executive director of JArts. She will be moderating a discussion between three innovative activist-artists: Caron Tabb, Jason Talbot, and Wen-hao Tien. “Our artists represent intentionally diverse backgrounds so that we are able to illuminate issues of injustice in a way that shows the importance in Jewish life and the universal nature of these universal issues,” added Mandel.

“I’m excited to be part of this conference about the implications of intersectionality for interreligious relationships because I believe both Judaism and Feminism, as well as Jewish Feminism in particular, have important insights to teach about the gifts and challenges of holding and negotiating multiple identities,” said Judith Rosenbaum, the CEO of Jewish Womens Archive. “This conference is making a significant contribution to the field of interreligious studies by centering these questions of intersectionality, which are too often neglected in interreligious contexts.”

Conference attendees will also have an opportunity to tour the egalitarian mikveh (ritual pool) and campus partner Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters. Their education center is open to people of all faith backgrounds, and they regularly teach programs about mikveh and ritual innovation for individuals and groups from various faiths, including secular groups and partners of Jewish spouses. “We created it for all Jewish people who want to experience this ritual,” said Rabbi Amalia Mark, Mayyim Hayyim’s director of programs and partnerships. “We created this place for the person who wasn’t allowed to immerse at a mikveh because she was marrying a woman, we created it for the person who is trans and is coming before top surgery. We hope that opening the doors to ritual while still honoring traditional practice is something that all faiths can learn from,” Mark said. “What does that look like in your own communities? That’s what we want to ask.”

“In an increasingly interconnected world, exploring the complexity of identity formation and inter-group relations in different locations is crucial to our collective flourishing,” added Rabbi Rose. Together with our partners, Hebrew College is doing precisely that by co-hosting and contributing to the ICCJ 2023 Conference.

Learn more about the ICCJ 2023 Conference, see the full program, and register here. Registration is still open to local attendees.

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