Foxman to keynote Interfaith Partnership

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The 15th annual dinner of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the organization. The event is being held at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel on Thursday, Sept. 7. “Building Bridges: The Power of Interfaith Alliances, At Home and Abroad will be the topic of keynote speaker Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.”

“The topic Mr. Foxman will be addressing really encapsulates the importance of what we feel Interfaith Partnership brings to the St. Louis,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We believe in that power. In fact if there were no Interfaith Partnership it would need to be invented. You need that common table where the representatives of the broad range of religious groups can get together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation and learn about each other and reach the kind of understanding you can only reach if you’re talking to each other.”

ADVERTISEMENT

When Interfaith Partnership was originally established, the impetus actually had nothing to do with religion per se. It was a way the different faith communities responded to some cuts in government funding at the time. “The needy were kind of falling through the cracks,” said Beth Damsgaard-Rodriquez, Interfaith Partnership director of service projects and learning. “It was a way for the interfaith community to come together to help meet the needs of the poor.”

One of the things they discovered was of how little each faith group understood about the other. The organization opened the door to help them learn about beliefs of the other faith groups. “It was a to build bridges of understanding between them,” said Damsgaard-Rodriquez. Today the organization represents 31 faith traditions in the St. Louis area. Their programming includes educational opportunities, dialogue groups, an annual music festival, the annual dinner, social advocacy and their continuing commitment to the health and wellness of the needy.

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri/Southern Illinois is excited about the upcoming dinner.

“From an interfaith perspective the stuff that’s going on in the world is ripe for discussion, not an easy discussion,” said Aroesty. She referred to the recent incidents of hate which occurred at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Beth Shalom in Columbia, Missouri and the shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle. The ADL recently completed security briefings for Jewish institutions in St. Louis area.

“In the midst of all this and all the anti-Israel stuff coming out of the Middle East and Iran we are asking people to sit down and talk interfaith and it’s incredibly hard to do,” Aroesty said. “There are a lot of folks in the Jewish community who would much rather say, ‘forget it right now; it’s important for us to take care of our own.’ That concerns me. I think it makes interfaith dialogue more important, more necessary and harder to accomplish.”

On the other hand it makes it more important to tackle the issue at a community level. This where interfaith rubber hits the road,” said Aroesty. “We must do it at the local level where interfaith dialogue can more easily be accomplished.” People can actually get together to have the discussions since they live in the same area. Once they are together they can start talking about the things they have in common. “They can talk about the Cardinals, the weather, their favorite restaurants, how long were they without power — things that have nothing to do with religion issues,” Aroesty said. “But talking about these things are the way people can start to get to know each other. And then you can get to the religious stuff.”

Reservations for the special 20th anniversary dinner for Interfaith Partnership must be made by Aug. 28. For more information, call 314-531-4787. This year the entire dinner is being catered by Simon Kohn’s and will be acceptable to all Jewish and Islamic dietary laws.