Or Tzedek Alum Rose Johnson Reflects on MLK Day Interfaith Event

Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

In honor of MLK Day, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teens from across Chicago joined together to honor Dr. King’s dream for a better world by discussing interfaith solidarity. The interfaith event was sponsored by JCUA, St. Viator High School, and The Children of Abraham Coalition, and hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago (CAIR-Chicago).  Below is a reflection from one of the Or Tzedek teens who participated in the event.

Originally I had planned on going to the teen interfaith event on MLK day so I could see my friend who was also going. But what transpired at the event really got me thinking about what it takes to bring peace to the world.

I should say, first of all, that the event was really fun. I got to talk to friends, both old and new, about interesting topics and hand out flyers that helped to spread the message of peace and equality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard for. In the discussions, both before and after we passed out flyers, I learned a lot about other people, other people’s religions, and what it takes to bring a group of people that have differing opinions to a place of mutual respect and peace.

At the beginning of the event we broke up into small groups. My small group contained an anime enthusiast who went to a Catholic school, the father of a Catholic school student, a Muslim who worked with low income families to make sure they got the resources available to them, and me. It wouldn’t appear at first glance that any of us had much in common other than the fact that we all wanted to be at an interfaith event, but once we got to talking I found reasons to respect each person and each religion represented in my group. Among questions about what our favorite movies were and what our favorite foods are were questions about misconceptions about our religions, questions about who our religious heroes were, and questions about what we’ve learned from our religions. Turns out we all had a lot in common.

It says in the Talmud Yerushalmi: “They sustain the poor Gentiles and the poor of Israel, and visit the Gentile sick and the Israelite sick and bury the Gentile dead and the Israelite dead and comfort the Gentile mourner and the Israelite mourner and wash the clothes of Gentiles and the clothes of Israel due to the ways of peace.” This quote for me is problematic in its wording, yet also really meaningful. While I don’t believe we as Jews should separate ourselves into Jews and Gentiles, I believe that if we dig deeper into the quote it shows the Talmud firmly establishes that, while we are decided along lines of color, age and religion, we must harbor deep respect for and help everyone. The quote even goes so far as to say that we must wash the clothes of the Jew and the Gentile. And all this to build a peace that will last because everyone is contributing to it.

This event showed me that real life empathy building can create respectful environments in which tough conversations can be had and introduced me to relationships with new people, organizations and ideas that I hope to expand upon in the future.

Rose is a 2014 Or Tzedek alum. She currently attends Chicagoland Jewish High School where she is a Junior. Rose is on the board of her synagogue youth group, BESSY. Along with two of her good friends, she also helps run the GSA, which is called Gavah, meaning Pride.

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