Our Torah portion this week is Parshat Yitro, named for Moses' father-in-law, a man with whom the Jewish people had an exemplary interfaith relationship. In this parsha, God instructs us, "V'atem tihiyu li mamlechet cohanim v'goi kadosh - You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," (Exodus 19:6). The "You" in this verse is decidedly plural. God is not just speaking to Moses or even a select few individuals. Each and every Jew belongs to this holy nation and is a "priest," - a leader in his or her own way.
Moses himself learns this important lesson in a governance suggestion from Yitro. In his wisdom, Yitro recognized that Moses would not be able to endure as the leader of the Jewish people if he continued to be the sole arbiter of each and every dispute that arose in the community.
Yitro advised Moses to share this judicial burden by selecting several capable individuals to serve as judges. Yitro taught Moses to empower others to share in the leadership of the Jewish people.
Just as Moses learned from Yitro, there is much that we can learn today through interreligious dialogue and interfaith partnerships. In addition to this system of judges, Parshat Yitro introduces another cornerstone of our Jewish legal system: The Ten Commandments. In the spirit of Yitro, here are ten interreligious learning and dialogue resources that will assist you and others in becoming an empowered community of interfaith leaders.
1. The URJ's commitment to interreligious dialogue is actualized through two dialogue curricula: Open Doors, Open Minds, for Jewish-Christian Dialogue, and Children of Abraham for Jewish-Muslim Dialogue. Both curricula are available online, as well as in hard copy (by request).
2. Several sessions, speakers, and FaithJam, an interactive musical performance, were among the interreligious highlights at the 2009 URJ Biennial in Toronto. Consider bringing them to you community!
3. One of our synagogues, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, is at the forefront of the Jewish-Muslim dialogue movement. Learn more about their successes in this TV news story.
4. Marc Rosenstein writes a regular contribution to Ten Minutes of Torah and the URJ Blog entitled Galilee Diary. His most recent piece includes an account of several fascinating interfaith encounters in Israel.
5. The Washington Post's On Faith blog focuses on the intersection of religion and politics, with guest contributions from a diverse range of faith voices, including our own Rabbi David Saperstein!
6. Faith in Public Life is a strategy center with the mission of "advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good." I highly recommend you to sign up for FPL News Reel, an excellent daily roundup of faith and politics news coverage.
7. The Pluralism Project, based out of Harvard University, is a decade-long research project to engage students in studying the new religious diversity in the United States. Their resources by state are both fascinating and useful for interfaith efforts on a more local level.
8. Much of the work of the RAC is done through interreligious partnerships and coalitions. Faithful Reform is an interfaith coalition of organizations that are committed to lifting up the moral voice for health insurance reform in the United States.
9. The mission of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) is "to harness the teachings and values of the three Abrahamic faiths and transform religion's role from a force of division and extremism into a source of reconciliation, coexistence, and understanding." For more information with their work with youth, women, and religious leaders to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence and peace-building projects, check out their website.
10. The Arava Institute is an Environmental Studies and Coexistence program on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel. The residential academic program brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and North American students to learn about shared environmental resources and challenges, as well as engage in interfaith dialogue about the Arab-Israeli conflict. As an alum, I can tell you it's a life-changing experience!
For further opportunities or information about these resources, feel free to contact me.
Whether you're planning to welcome a child into your family, are preparing to choose your own Hebrew name, or just enjoy learning about the meanings and stories that names hold, I hope you'll be inspired by one of these nine names inspired by Purim, Passover, and the renewal of spring.
With the nominees announced for the 96th Academy Awards, "Oppenheimer," "Zone of Interest," and "Maestro" bring Jewish figures and history into this year's celebration. To whet your appetite, try watching some (or all) of these eight Oscar winners from past years with strong Jewish roots.