GRASS ROOTS DIALOGUE PROJECT
A briefing for the Jewish community
Ever since the Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church 50 years ago, there has been a growing, positive interest in Judaism among many of the Christian denominations. This interest is expressed in sincere and respectful ways. It shows a marked movement away from missionising and towards greater understanding, mutual acknowledgement of common social and ethical goals, and self-reflective learning about the other. It recognises, as well, that the ability of those of different faith traditions to engage in sincere and respectful dialogue is one of the principal keys to achieving harmony and well-being in Australia’s multicultural society.
At the same time, there remain many areas of deep misunderstanding between Jews and Christians. Our amicable relationship today is, in places, only skin deep. From the Jewish side, it is distressing when we see that many Christian congregations have developed a powerful focus on human rights issues which leads them at times to misconstrue Zionism and the meaning of eretz-Yisrael for the Jewish community (some Churches’ support for the BDS movement is a good example). From the Christian side, they see it as a problem that many Jews view contemporary Christianity through the lens of centuries of persecution and exile without realising that our relation may be changing.
The Council of Christians and Jews has been engaged in the pursuit of mutual understanding since its very beginnings in the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War. In its quiet way, the CCJ has provided a model for interfaith dialogue that has been adopted by many other interfaith groups. Up to now, in Melbourne as elsewhere, this model has generally focussed on bringing the principles of dialogue to a small group of already committed participants. Building on our success in the past, the CCJ is now preparing to move to the next stage of dialogue, that is, to engage the rank and file members of churches and synagogues, introducing them to what interfaith dialogue is about and why it is a sacred activity within the religious context in today’s Australia.
Our mechanism to accomplish this is the “Grass Roots Dialogue Project”. The aim of the Project is to bring dialogue directly into churches and synagogues, where our team of presenters can engage with ordinary members of the community – the ba’alei batim – who may never before have experienced dialogue and may have little idea how it actually works. We are seeking your support in providing opportunities for our presenters to be hosted by your synagogue at a meaningful time, perhaps at a Shabbat oneg or a Minchah shiur, which will give their participation greater weight and urgency for your community. The presenters will use this valuable opportunity to introduce the kehillah to dialogue in action.
The Project depends on receiving practical support in two ways. First, we are asking you to identify one or two individuals from your kehillah who might be willing to join our team of presenters. These will be people who are well grounded in their Yiddishkeit as well as sympathetic to the goals of dialogue. They will be trained in ways to interact with Christians of different denominations, to enter churches and engage the ‘Christians in the pews’ in dialogical conversation. Their commitment will consist of about 10 training and supervision sessions through the entire year (from late May 2014 – June 2015), as well as 3-4 church visits on Sunday mornings or midday spread over the year.
Second, we hope that you will agree to invite our presenters into your shule to introduce Jewish-Christian dialogue to your congregation. Ideally, for both Christian and Jewish congregations we’d like these visits to take place at a time which attracts the largest crowd of worshippers. In practice, for the Jewish community this means during Shabbat. The presentations could occur at the conclusion of Mussaf, at a Friday evening oneg, or possibly after Minchah. You may also wish to publicise the event, to alert those who have a special interest in this topic. We’d be happy to work out the details with you once you’ve agreed to host a visit.
I am hoping that you see the value in the Grass Roots Dialogue Project and are keen to contribute to its success by participating in it in the ways I’ve described. For further information, to pass on the names of people whom you would recommend as presenters or to indicate your willingness to participate in the project, please contact me, Rabbi Fred Morgan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for reading this letter. I look forward to hearing from you!
Rabbi Fred Morgan
Honorary President, Council of Christians and Jews (Vic)
0412 944 475
28 March 2014