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Is Interfaith Work Worth the Effort

Is Interfaith Work Worth the Effort

16 February 2011

One of the many roles for the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is to foster strong relationships with the various Melbourne faith based communities. Indeed, six of the twelve objectives outlined in our constitution hinge upon the JCCV promoting good relationships with the broader community. These include:

  • A better society by promoting understanding and co-operation between all faiths;
  • Facilitation of harmony and positive relationships between the various elements of the Victorian Jewish; community and between our community and the larger community;
  • A positive perception of Jews in Victorian society;
  • Greater understanding of and respect for the Jewish way of life;
  • A safer local Jewish community; and
  • Zero community tolerance of racism and in particular anti-Semitism.

As such, John Searle, President of the JCCV, hosted an interfaith evening at his home in late 2010 with local Belgian Christian guests who are heavily involved in Jewish-Christian relations.  This was just one of the many interfaith activities across 2010, a year that included the launch of the interfaith guidelines, the Anglican-Jewish dinner, the Catholic-Jewish dinner and a Hindu interfaith dinner and JCCV membership of various organisations dedicating to improving interfaith relations.

The evening at John’s home evolved into a fascinating discussion of the lives of Jews and Christians here and in Europe and the issues faced by our respective communities. Frans and Renee van den Brande, on holiday from Antwerp, Belgium, were accompanied by two Sisters of Sion, Patricia Watson and Mary Lotton. They provided a perspective of Christian leaders working alongside leaders of the Jewish faith involved in Jewish-Christian relations.

The conversation covered numerous issues. These included the relationships of Jews and the broader community in Antwerp, Europe and Australia; the Flemish Hassidic community; the recent movement of the diamond trade from Belgium causing major job losses, particularly for Antwerp Jews; the positive change in Rome’s attitude towards Jewish people; the need to address the ignorance that causes antisemitism, especially amongst the clergy and the relationship between events in the Middle East and antisemitism.

What were the benefits of this evening? John Searle explained, “It is heartening to hear people of other faiths espousing the rights of Israel to exist, the misrepresentation of Israel in the world-wide media and the ignorance that causes much antisemitism that could, and should be rejected from the pulpit”.

Searle stated that “The reason JCCV engages in interfaith work is to build bridges between faiths through understanding, respect and trust. The outcomes of such relationships can only be positive, enabling active discourse between communities to resolve issues in order to live and work together harmoniously”.

The Sisters of Sion have a positive and embracing philosophy that focuses on a respect for other beliefs and cultures. In light of this, they established a Centre for Jewish Christian relations in Kew in 1970 and work diligently to dispel antisemitism. Around the world they lecture on the Jewish roots of Christianity to interested groups, take people on trips to Israel to explore Jewish-Christian heritage and actively work with Rome to create positive Jewish-Christian documentation and policy.

The van den Brandes are very active in all aspects of interfaith work. They conduct tours through the Hassidic neighborhoods of Antwerp (including a meal at the now famous kosher restaurant); they counteract the prevailing European trend of anti-Israel sentiment and alongside the Sisters of Sion in Brussels, conduct tours to Israel starting in the north and working their way down through sites of significance.

The evening proved that interfaith work develops friendships and understanding. Perhaps this is only amongst the participants and with people who have an open mind. Yet better relationships must start somewhere.  However, without people willing to open their minds and share and learn from others, the Victorian Jewish community and others around the world would be less safe and far less enriched. Searle has offered full support to the Sisters’ work in Melbourne and where possible the groups will work together in partnership.

Sisters of Sion

“Our special call within the Church is to witness to God's faithful love for the Jewish people and the promises given them, for all humanity. We work towards a greater understanding between the Church and the Jewish people and for a deeper respect between all races, traditions and cultures.”

For further information on interfaith work, contact Jo Silver, JCCV  Project Manager on 9272 5566.

This article can also be found on the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne website


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