Scholar: Rabbis must be ready for multi-faith world


Dr. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer was in St. Louis last weekend to speak about a subject dear to her heart: the crucial importance of preparing rabbis to be leaders in a multi-faith world. She is director of the Department of Multi-faith Studies and Initiatives and an associate professor of religious studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in Philadelphia.

Fuchs-Kreimer came here as scholar-in-residence at Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community. While in town, she took part in Shabbat services with Rabbi Ari Vernon, spoke at a “Lunch-and-Learn” event and share a podium with Randa Kuziez, a graduate student at Washington University and national vice president of the Muslim Student Association. The programs were to be held at St. Louis Hillel, 6300 Forsyth in Clayton.


David Roberts, who with his wife, Susan Fischlowitz, founded Shir Hadash four years ago, invited Fuchs-Kreimer to St. Louis. “Nancy is vibrant and dynamic, and I think hearing Nancy will intrigue our congregation, and also challenge them,” said Roberts, who is chairman of the RRC national board.

“Jews have worked hard to build interfaith relationships with Christians,” Fuchs-Kreimer said, “and now at RRC, we are making sure that our students know something about Islam. Jews and Muslims are woefully ignorant about each other. To some extent, Jews are ignorant about Muslims because most Americans are — and after 2001, we all became aware of the cost of our ignorance.”

Fuchs-Kreimer continued, “In today’s world, we know that our rabbis will be called upon to enter into dialogues with Christians and Muslims, and they must be trained to take on leadership roles.”

The only rabbinical college in the country that trains Reconstructionist rabbis, RRC also is one of the few that offers multi-faith studies. To graduate, students must take two courses in Fuchs-Kreimer’s department. “We want our students to get hands-on experience working with Muslim leaders,” said Fuchs-Kreimer. “This experience is designed to show students how much we have in common with Muslims — and the result has been great learning on all sides.”

Born in New York City, Fuchs-Kreimer grew up in Roslyn, on Long Island. She decided to become a rabbi when she was still a child. “There were no women rabbis then, but I was only 10, and I was oblivious,” she said, laughing. Fuchs-Kreimer was ordained at RRC in 1982. She currently serves on the boards of the Metanexus Institute for Science and Religion and the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia.

The author of Parenting as a Spiritual Journey (Harper Collins, 1996; Jewish Lights, 1998), Fuchs-Kreimer also has written numerous journal articles on a wide variety of topics.

She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Seth Kreimer, a professor of Constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania. They have two daughters.

Fuchs-Kreimer noted that many Muslims now are wondering how to integrate as a minority religious group in American society. “Jews have been through exactly the same process,” she said. “We may have come to different conclusions, but we also had to learn how to reinvent ourselves, learn how to put our traditions in the context of America.”

In spite of that commonality, she said, the mainstream media and the Jewish media concentrate on negative reports of the Muslim world, reports that focus on violence. “At RRC, we believe it is crucial for rabbis to take the lead in helping youth and others to get these violent images out of their heads, and instead to emphasize that American Muslims — who may be their neighbors — are in no way involved in terrorism,” she said.

“The conflict in the Middle East might be the elephant in the room, and may remain as a source of discord,” said Fuchs-Kreimer. “But the shared concerns for this conflict, a conflict that is not taking place in the country where we live, can be a way of connecting, of sharing a desire to move that conflict forward in a positive way.”

Fuchs-Kreimer paused and added, “Some have said that here in America, we can do what they cannot do in the Middle East. With Jewish and Muslim leaders working together here, perhaps with Christians as mediators, our goal can be to take a deep breath and see ourselves as primarily Americans — and then we can build a shared agenda.”

And that is the hope that fuels Fuchs-Kreimer’s work every day.