Manitoba honors St. Louis couple for interfaith work

Carol and Rabbi Neal Rose

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Building bridges among world religions has been the life work of Rabbi Neal Rose and his wife, Carol. Recently, the couple was honored by the Canadian provincial government of Manitoba for all the two have done to promote interfaith understanding and togetherness. 

About 200 people attended the award ceremony, held earlier this month. “I looked out and thought this is the way it could be,” said Carol, 70. “All of these people from various and diverse backgrounds coming together for a noble goal.”

Unfortunately, it was also a reminder of how elusive that goal remains. That evening in Paris, a dozen people were murdered in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, an event that made the Roses’ work seem that much more important.

“Everybody stood up and acknowledged what a privilege it is for us to be able to struggle through dialogue in a safe and sane way rather than emphasizing differences and becoming violent with each other,” she said.


The Roses, parents of Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona, were recipients of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for the Advancement of Inter-Religious Understanding in Winnipeg, the Canadian city where they lived from the 1960s until late last year, when the couple moved to St. Louis. They traveled back to accept the unique award, which Carol said has only been given out five times in the past.

The pair is the first married couple to be given the award together. Both taught theology courses at the University of Winnipeg and the rabbi did the same at the University of Manitoba. Yet it was also their work outside the classroom that made them so important to interfaith efforts in the city.

“Around our Pesach table, we had clergy of all faiths – yogis, gurus, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, nuns,” said Carol. “Our kids grew up that way. We’ve always had an open door policy.”

For Carol, a noted author whose work has appeared in interfaith feminist journals, that philosophy was based on her father’s injunction to “lend a face to our faith.” For her husband, a family counselor at the Interfaith Pastoral Institute, the interest ran equally deep.

“I’ve always been interested in how people do their religion,” he said. “I’ve always had a strong interest in how people are religious. That’s my natural curiosity.”

Neal Rose became a co-founder and a key part of the local Interfaith Roundtable in Winnipeg and spoke at churches, mosques and other houses of worship.

“When I would teach the courses in religions of the world, I always made sure that there were people who were practitioners of that religion who would come to speak to the students,” said the 75-year-old. “In the process of that, I got to know people.”

Neal, who worked closely with Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of the Jewish Renewal Movement, said Winnipeg turned out to be a remarkably diverse place spiritually including Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i and other faith communities.

“The courses I taught usually were thematic and comparative at the same time,” he said. “I did a seminar called religion and mythology. We’d look at the mythologies of the stories of various religions, various traditions, both east and west.”

In his practice of family therapy, where he rented space from a Catholic church, he wouldn’t just get referrals from clergy but would also receive clergy as clients themselves.

 “They felt particularly comfortable with me because I wasn’t in their community and I had a sense of religion and the process of religion,” he said. “One morning in my office, I started with a Protestant minister. I then saw a nun and then later in the day I saw a priest, a young man who wanted to figure out if he was going to stay in the priesthood.”

He said that the need for interfaith work is as important as it ever has been.

“When people share on a personal level, they gain a better understanding of each other and a better appreciation,” he said. “When you humanize something, it is hard to become violent or conflictual with people you know well. Once people get to know each other, they see the things they have in common and appreciate the differences.”

He noted that such connections are vital in a democratic society but also can help people individually.

“In my case, the various things that I learned and experienced with these religious traditions really enriched my practice of Judaism,” he said.

Carol said that creating alliances, friendships and affiliations can help dispel myths that people hold about each other.

“People can dialogue about what their perception of Judaism is, what they’ve heard, what they’ve come to believe or what they’ve never been taught,” she said. “The same thing is true of us. When we meet with other folks, we get to raise the questions that will possibly only happen in an intimate setting like over lunch or around a roundtable.”

To this day, Carol said the couple is proud that each of their four children is involved in some way with interfaith work. Neal said he hopes Jews will continue to make interreligious understanding a priority.

“We live in a multicultural, very diversified society,” he said. “Part of our reality is that we need to learn to work with other people while at the same time maintaining our sense of identity.”

Moreover, Carol noted that the honor they’ve earned speaks strongly to the desire of so many to establish a better interfaith dialogue and stop horrors like the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

“It’s not so much that we’ve received the award but the fact that we live in countries where this is possible,” she said.

Rabbi Carnie Rose said that his father often noted how much people of faith have in common since belief is a cornerstone of their lives.

“I’m immensely proud of my parents as I always am,” said the B’nai Amoon rabbi, who added that he often says if he could be like anyone it would be his mother and father. 

“I’m not at all surprised by their receiving this award. They have done a lifetime of work in the interfaith community.”