Connecting Across Faiths

By Sam Hopkins

During 2019 I was pleased to participate in two events connected to my year as part of the Baltimore Jewish Council’s (BJC) Leadership Development Program that showed the interest and attention the BJC and the Associated put into connecting Jewish Baltimore to our neighbors of other faiths: the Interfaith Trialogue Series and the Interfaith Dinner at Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. It is not incidental that these experiences were connected by communal meals and positive conversation – through both we were nourished and given energy to continue the commitment to interaction.

Understanding others comes from action and interaction – we may be the People of the Book eternally, but we are people of Baltimore daily. Breaking bread with others allows for exploration of the common need for sustenance as well as our different approaches to giving thanks for our blessings through different prayers, foods, and even ways of eating.

The Interfaith Trialogue series involved three faiths joining in discussion three weeks in a row. The venue was the R House, itself a place of hope and revitalization in Baltimore that emphasizes sharing of space and personal interaction with strangers. Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy opened with discussions of varying approaches to community, focusing on overlap and mandates in each tradition to love one another–both our co-religionists and those around us.

There are of course many significant differences among faith traditions, and those have been taken in dark directions at various points in history. Our Jewish calendar is full of actual or near-genocides, cultural assaults, and other commemorations of sadness.

However, we also mark the role of the righteous among the nations in our survival. Baltimore has always been a city of refuge and mixture, but tendencies toward division threaten the potential for shared peace from Fell’s Point to Park Heights.

I did not come from Baltimore – my family began settling in the Kansas City area before the Civil War, and that is where I was raised. But being in Baltimore for 15 years has required me to figure out how to represent myself and my community authentically.

I am not religious, which prompted interesting discussions about what it means to be a Jew with some involved in these interfaith events. A mezuzah may mark the door of a home where prayer is seldom heard, and that can be striking to an African American who converted to Islam. My family has a deep history of intermarriage, first Catholic-Protestant and then Christian-Jewish, but my guiding faith and sense of community come from Judaism.

The series of conversations arranged by the BJC forced me to articulate my own background and goals in a way that simply does not come up in most day-to-day interactions. It is a heavy burden to try to represent a community of tens of thousands, but it is always possible to represent yourself.

Lively chats about individual faith journeys turned naturally into discussions of neighborhoods, children, challenges and goals. We shared hopes, fears and food. Baltimore is a puzzle worth continuing to put together though it will never be finished.

This is our religious and cultural lot as Jews – knowing that salvation is always just around the corner, and that we know the holy is among us when we know peace. We do not wait for the age of perfection to do our part in repairing the world, so we look around and we engage to hasten better times.

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