There is more that unites than divides us

by
07 December 2015

People from different faiths can work side by side in social action to help others, says Leah Jordan

YAKIR ZUR

Serving together: Rabbi Leah Jordan (second from left) joins Christians and Jews in a project to feed homeless people

Serving together: Rabbi Leah Jordan (second from left) joins Christians and Jews in a project to feed homeless people

AS A Student and Young Adult Chaplain for Liberal Judaism, I find that the first question I am usually asked is: “What’s it like for students of faith on campus these days?” This is often followed by enquiries about the relationship between religions — and especially between Jewish and Christian students.

It has become clearer than ever that there is more that unites our two faiths than divides us. I visit campuses all round the country, always finding strong bonds forming between Jewish and Christian students.

Several have told me that they have become close because, after meeting — whether at an interfaith event, or just in classes or halls of residence — they realise how much they relate to each other. There is something special about coming from a religious household.

Whether it’s Passover or Easter, both faiths share the values of getting together around festivals for family meals and sacred time. Whether it’s bar/bat mitzvah, or confirmation, there is a tradition of intergenerational get-togethers for rituals and life-cycle events. And, on the cultural side, there are the similarities of growing up in a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

 

I WOULD argue that the divide on campus in 2015 is not between students of faith — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu — but, in some ways, between students of faith and everyone else.

Secular, non-faith students can sometimes distrust their religious peers. My sense is that, unfortunately, with each passing decade, religion and religious life seem to be things of the past to non-religious students.

Students have told me that they often feel like the odd one out in being part of a faith community. I know that many of them choose not to “wear their faith on their sleeve”, as it were, in order not to stand out.

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This does not seem to have resulted in religious extremism — a worry I sometimes hear voiced by parents or the media, but have never seen in practice at universities.

One of the misconceptions about faith which you find on campus is that it is narrow-minded and conservative. But both Judaism and Christianity are very vocal, and both have progressive as well as traditional sides.

Liberal Judaism has been at the forefront of campaigns for everything from LGBT rights to refugee resettlement to a Living Wage — often standing side by side with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Recently, I sat on a panel in Birmingham for LGBT students of faith, alongside the Anglican and Methodist chaplains, and a leading female Muslim. In a moving moment, it became clear that students who live alternative lifestyles, and who once felt that religious communities were too narrow-minded to include them, have begun to realise that that is not the case.

 

OF COURSE, there are differences between students of faith. When it comes to Jews and Christians, these are the natural ones that come from growing up in different traditions — specifically, two faiths that defined themselves 2000 years ago in some ways in opposition to one another.

When the Early Church parted ways with the Jewish community, the Church chose to make distinctions between the two traditions: for instance, moving the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday; emphasising the word, or belief, over practice; and taking the Graeco-Roman model of easy cultural conversion into the Christian community. On the other hand, the Jewish community has always been a more Middle Eastern, Semitic model of ethnicity and tribe first.

But there is also much to unite us. We both follow a monotheistic God. We share the Hebrew Bible — which Jews call the Tanakh, and Christians call the Old Testament.

 

OUTSIDE campus, the strong bonds between our faiths have continued. In a recent campaign for refugee resettlement in Norfolk, Jews and Christians came together to lobby the council to resettle 50 Syrian refugees in the area. We did so from a place of religious conviction.

Mitzvah Day, a day of Jewish-led social action, takes place each year in November. Volunteers from synagogues, schools, organisations, and other communities team up with their Christian counterparts to help some of the most vulnerable in society.

For example, last month, in a project filmed for the BBC’s Songs of Praise, I was part of a Jewish-and-Christian team that was making food for the homeless shelter at the Methodist church in King’s Cross.

 

GETTING people from different backgrounds in a room together, working towards the same goal, is one of the best ways to build relationships. Besides cultural similarities, and a joint ideal to do good in society, there is also a sense that our morality and way of life come from an ancient tradition that teaches how to live an ethical life.

Contemporary Christian and Jewish communities recognise that we both have a commitment to social justice, compelled by the words of the prophetic writings that we share; a sense of intergenerational covenant with something larger than ourselves; and a belief that how we live in the world is informed by age-old wisdom, not just modern life.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the central teaching in the Gospels, comes originally, of course, from Leviticus, one of the five books of what the Jewish community calls the Torah, our most foundational sacred text.

Long may that love continue to flourish between our faiths.

 

Rabbi Leah Jordan is a Student and Young-Adult Chaplain for Liberal Judaism.

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