Archive for August, 2009

Closing Thoughts, Part II: Glasgow

Aharon Soudry

Much esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed colleagues. I am Aharon Soudry representing Glasgow Jewish Community. A great deal of this Exchange program is about Social Justice. Among the fields dealt with were those of: Immigration, Religious Minorities, and Community Justice. The Retreat at the Rabbi T Marshall Meyer was crammed with such important topics, mainly immigration. How apt to have named it “from Estrangement to Engagement”! A poignant title that encapsulates the whole concept. It is clear that all the agencies we visited and interacted with, have a common goal and identical leitmotiv: Abolishment of estrangement by encouraging all the vulnerable elements of society – be they illegal immigrants or discriminated against employees – to come out and contact the many organizations set up to help them. The fear is that by doing so they will expose themselves and it would backfire on them. To this effect the governing bodies do abide by the data protection act and I know that some of their officials have been sworn to secrecy. The engagement is also done via the panoply of faith leaders who are encouraged to come and learn about the logistic support available.

This is done also with the help of NYPD, the NY Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling and the D.A’s office within its Immigrant Affairs Program led by Joane, Daisy and Leroy. There is a general positive feeling that everybody is anxious to spread the Gospel and the message that help/support is available, please come and get it.  I found it remarkable that dialogues such as the “Roundtables” at he D.A’s office, initiated I understand by the NY Interfaith Center, are very popular and representatives from all faiths, minorities and ethnic groups come together to share their experiences. I know everybody leaves the workshops considerably more enriched, thereby contributing to the better administration of social justice.

I should like to see similar actions taken in Scotland in order to protect those who are vulnerable, with the assistance and active participation of faith leaders, Strathclyde Police, City Councils etc.

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Closing Thoughts: Glasgow Delegation

Magdalen Lambkin

It’s a real privilege and a pleasure to be here with all of you today and to have the opportunity to tell you about the experiences of the Scottish delegation on this unique exchange. I want to begin by expressing our sincere thanks to everyone involved in making this exchange possible. We know an enormous amount of work has gone in to making it all come together and I hope to give you a flavour of our trip and to show you why their efforts have been so worthwhile. Our ten days have included a wide variety of experiences, from visiting places of worship, to participating in some of the wonderful projects run by the Interfaith Center of New York to having discussions with officials who are engaging to various degrees and in different ways with faith communities.

We also found time to experience some of the sites this great city has to offer, one of the highlights of which was a trip to Ellis Island and Liberty Island, and you can see in the photo that we were undeterred by the rain!

Our hosts have given us a great insight into the amazing diversity of New York City and we are very fortunate to have spent a day in the most diverse place on earth – the borough of Queens. There we met with the Queens Borough President’s immigration task force and from there we went to the Hindu Ganesh Temple and the Gurudwara and in both places were fed to almost bursting point with delicious food. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been made to feel so welcome, and really the warmth and generosity of spirit of the people we’ve met here is something I know will stay with all of us.
We also went to the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, and above are some of our delegation meeting with Imam Talib, who gave an inspiring address that really showed his care for the community as well as his interfaith awareness . We also went to the B’Nai Jeshurun synagogue for a vibrant, joyful welcoming of Shabbat. We visited the New York Buddhist Church where T. K. Nagagaki reminded us of the need to be inclusive in our language in interfaith discussions. He related that words such as one God, creator and justice fail to speak to the eastern traditions and he praised the Interfaith Center of New York as being one of the few interfaith organisations which doesn’t display the Abrahamic bias which is becoming increasingly prevalent today. On Sunday we attended a wonderful service and lunch at St Mary’s Episcopal Church and some of us had the opportunity to go with Reverend Earl Kooperkamp for his delivery of the Eucharist for homeless people in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, after which we helped to distribute lunches to homeless people in the park. We’ve been very impressed by the commitment to social justice and serving the community by religious and lay leaders we’ve met here, and by the Interfaith Center’s model of working, whereby members of religious communities are brought together around an issue of common concern (such as immigration) and are provided with a space in which they can draw on the rich reservoir of their tradition to make a positive contribution to civic life, and to work together to achieve a more just and harmonious society.
I’ll now ask Aharon Soudry to say a little about this theme of Immigration which has been a central theme of our time here..

[Aharon Soudry speaks, see above posting.]

 I’d like finally to share with you some of the important outcomes of this exchange from the perspective of the Scottish delegation, one of which has been the debates that have been ignited by us all being here together.

We’ve been discussing matters of key concern to life in our religiously and culturally diverse societies and the experiences and expertise of both those from New York and from our friends from Barcelona have been extremely valuable in informing those discussions and we have learnt a great deal from eachother. We have been motivated to think more deeply about the nature of interfaith work and what our goals are. How can we balance our efforts in such a way that we work together in practical ways toward the common good but also fulfil that vital need to truly know one another so that understanding, trust and friendship can be built?

We have heard conflicting opinions as to the extent to which New York communities are segregated or integrated and have asked what do we mean when we speak of integration?  How can we create a society where people can maintain their religious and cultural identity and at the same time feel free and welcome to engage with others and to move fluidly throughout all sections of society?  We have been exposed to a great array of good practice in interfaith work and are already planning how we might implement what we have learned when we go back to Scotland.

Just one example, the success of the Rabbi Marshall Meyer retreat has encouraged us to think of ways in which we can develop our network of religious leaders, to engage more grassroots leaders and to provide them with training in practical matters pertinent to their communities and in this way reach out to more than just those who already think that interfaith engagement is a good idea. We are delighted that although this is our final full day in New York, this is not the end of our learning exchange. We look forward very much to welcoming a delegation from New York and our friends form Barcelona to Glasgow when it is our turn to host the exchange.

The bar has been set very high by Chloe and her team and just as the Qur’an tells us that we should ‘compete with one another in goodness’ we have been inspired to make every effort to ensure that delegations from New York and Barcelona will have as fruitful and as enjoyable a time as we have had here. Thank you very much!