My most powerful and memorable experiences with interreligious dialogue took place with the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Jewish and Muslim Teen Dialogue Group (JAM) and with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). My involvement in these organizations provided me with the unique opportunity to deepen my understanding of these Abrahamic religions and appreciate their interconnectedness. These opportunities inspired me to serve as an interfaith fellow and catalyzed my passion for bringing interfaith dialogue to the forefront of conversations regarding diversity and inclusion both on and off campus.
The JAM program offers an intimate and intensive environment in which a select group of Jewish and Muslim students passionately engage in direct and honest dialogue. In our sessions, we addressed issues such as religion in politics, genocide, biases in the media, and growing up as Americans while maintaining strong connections with our familial cultures and faith traditions. Though we may have legitimate historical, political, religious, and socio-economic reasons to have animosity towards one another, we were able to find common ground. Not surprisingly, we found that the daily challenges we face as religious teens emerging from minority populations are quite similar. I found myself effortlessly developing connections with my peers, empathizing with the difficulties of living a religious life in an increasingly secular society.
Through the YWCA’s Future Leader Program, I was able to further understand and appreciate the Christian tradition as well. During this intensive two-week leadership development training, I was able to learn more about how the YWCA incorporates Christian values into every aspect of their work within the St. Louis community in order to achieve their goal of eliminating racism and empowering women. The programs offered by the YWCA aim to improve the lives of women, girls, and people of color through racial justice and economic empowerment. I am inspired by the dedication and commitment of the YWCA to better the world and create positive change through a religious lens.
One of the most profound images that emerges from the Bible is found in The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 49, Verse 6. There, Isaiah suggests that believers in God can serve as “a light unto the nations of the world.” After working with the participants of JAM and the YWCA’s Future Leader Program, I am inspired to work closely with other young women and men who seek to become people of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks, people who bring hope, light, and positive change to our community and our world, as a calling and a responsibility.
– Noa Rose