Community Blog Opening students hearts and minds to the beauty and complexity of our “world-house”
On the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day, rabbinical and cantorial students in their preparatory year (Mekorot) at Hebrew College gathered on campus for a special three-day seminar entitled “From Diversity to Pluralism,” taught by Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld and Rabbi Or Rose, Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership.
A few miles away, first-year students (Shanah Aleph) met at Boston University’s historic Marsh Chapel with Rev. Soren Hessler, Director of Graduate Academic Services at Drew University, who previously worked at the Miller Center, for a seminar entitled “Introduction to Christianity: Histories, Doctrines, and Practice.”
Back at Hebrew College, second-year students (Shanah Bet) spent the week in an introductory course on Islam for Jewish leaders led by Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman, a chaplain with the Massachusetts Department of Correction and former imam at Harvard University and Northeastern University.
“Coming immediately after MLK Day, these seminars feel like a fitting way to honor Dr. King’s legacy as a justice seeker and bridge-builder,” said Rabbi Or Rose. “Dr. King spoke of the need to understand the interconnection and interdependence of humankind, living in what he described as a ‘world-house.’ As emerging Jewish leaders, our students will be called upon to navigate complex questions of universality and particularity within the many rooms of our shared world-house.”
“Hebrew College is an intentionally pluralistic educational institution, welcoming students and teachers who hold diverse visions of Jewish life and the role of Jews and Judaism in the broader world,” added Rabbi Dan Judson, Dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. “It is essential, therefore, that students have informed knowledge of other faith traditions. We need our students to be prepared to meet the challenges of our diverse society.”
In “From Diversity to Pluralism,” students explored the values and character traits undergirding a pluralistic worldview (including humility, hospitality, and interconnection), examined the intersectional nature of identity (including religion, race, gender, and ethnicity) and explored the distinct challenges and opportunities of intra-Jewish and interreligious diversity. They considered the role of pluralism in different rabbinic and Jewish professional contexts and utilized text study,case studies, journaling, and song and meditation.
“Introduction to Christianity: Histories, Doctrines, and Practices” focused on the theoretical and practical dimension of Christian communities, past and present. Students conducted site visits to churches and Christian organizations in greater Boston, giving them the opportunity to network with actors in the local religious landscape and exposure to the various expressions of Christianity in our city. There were also guest lectures and workshops led by area clergy, scholars, and religious professionals.
In “Introduction to Islam for Jewish Leaders,” students explored key concepts, practices, and events from the Islamic tradition, with special attention given to the interaction of Jews and Muslims in different historical periods. As with the other two courses, the seminar included presentations by spiritual and cultural figures. Among the guest speakers was Dr. Shari Lowen of Stonehill College, and an instructor in Hebrew College community learning programs, who shared her experiences as a practicing Jew and a scholar of Islam. On The final day of course, students attended a worship service and met with communal leaders at the Yusuf Mosque in Brighton.
On Wednesday evening, students from all three cohorts met for dinner and a special presentation by photographer Brenda Bancel, who shared selections from her exhibit “Holding Our Differences Tenderly.” Her work explores the preconceived notions we often hold about each other and the rich complexities that lie beneath these surface images.
“I always say, ‘Where real dialogue happens is when we can combine faith, hope, love, humility and critical thinking,'” Bancel said after the event. “This is certainly what happened on this evening.”
Commenting on his experience in the Islam course, second-year Rabbinical student, Jackson Mercer, stated: “Learning with Imam Tay was an excavation of history and meaning from the Islamic tradition I didn’t know I wanted and needed.”
First-year student Michaela Brown said the following about her Christianity course: “Just as Hebrew College celebrates the diversity and pluralistic nature of the Jewish community, our Introduction to Christianity seminar exposed us to the various ways Christians engage theologically, ritually, and socially. Through this learning, we were encouraged to think of ways that our rabbinate will intersect with Christian communities and gained skills to better navigate those partnerships.”
David Rhodes, a guest student from Harvard University, added that the Pluralism seminar provided “an incredible opportunity to explore the philosophy of pluralism,” and a context for “spiritual reflection related to how we engage across differences.”
Reflecting on her journey to rabbinical school, Lara Haft (Shanah Bet) said that the Islam course gave her an “invaluable” opportunity to explore a variety of concepts and practices in an organized way with a trusted guide. Looking to the future, she added, “Our community would be so much stronger if every Jewish leader had the opportunity to take a similar course on Islam!”