A panel discussion titled “The Importance of Interfaith Partnerships in Advocacy” was the focus of the semi-annual members’ meeting of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, November 15, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
The discussion was a collaborative effort between Federation and the Centre for Israel Affairs (CIJA) and panelists included Imam Farhan Iqbal of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada, Ottawa; Amrit Kaur, vice-president for Quebec and Atlantic Canada of the World Sikh Organization; Richard Marceau, general counsel and senior political adviser at CIJA; and Julia Beazley, director of public policy at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The moderator was Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas.
“Advocacy is what democracy is all about,” said Rabbi Bulka who led the discussion by posing a series of questions to the panelists.
The panel described some of their major challenges that interfaith advocacy could help with.
Imam Iqbal mentioned helping the public and media understand the importance of religious symbols and combatting Islamophobia.
Kaur agreed with the imam’s point about the importance of understanding religious symbols and pointed to the importance of the turban and kirpan – the ceremonial knife carried by Sikhs – to her own faith.
“Being a turbaned woman, I’m not oppressed,” she said. “I cannot take my religion from my existence. We’ve gotten a lot of support from other religions. It has made us appreciate our religious symbols even more. It creates empathy.”
“When religious freedom is challenged for one group, it’s challenged for all of us,” said Beasley. “There is an awful lot we can work together on.”
Marceau pointed to social housing and palliative care as examples of issues that CIJA is working on with other faith groups.
All the panelists agreed that their religious values and beliefs shape their world view to help, but they don’t wish to impose their beliefs on others.
“There is so much that unites us, to support each other and to know each other better,” said Marceau. Quoting Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, he described Judaism as a “call to rebel against injustice.”
“Canada is a model for other countries in interfaith work,” said Imam Iqbal.
At the end of the discussion Rabbi Bulka opened the floor to questions from the audience.
“We don’t hear about how much is being done by other religious communities. How do we work together?” asked one member of the audience.
“The hardest communities to speak to are our own,” another audience member added. “When we come together, we might hear ‘why should we help them, what do they do for us?’ We need to tell the stories, and we need to hear them.” She cited the success of the Multifaith Housing Initiative in Ottawa as an example of successful interfaith cooperation.
“We all have to share our stories,” said Kaur.
It’s hard to get attention for interfaith cooperation in the media when “there’s no sex, no blood and no sport, and so people aren’t as interested,” said Marceau. He mentioned that it doesn’t make news that Sikh temples have soup kitchens to help feed needy people.
Marceau added that one area of interfaith advocacy and cooperation that has received media attention has been the help provided over the past two years to refugees from the Syrian civil war. He pointed out that many synagogues, churches, mosques and Sikh temples have organized sponsorships to help refugees settle in Canada.
The meeting began with Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman providing an update on progress of Federation’s five-year strategic plan.
Now at the three-year mark, Freedman said that good progress has already been made on 85 per cent of the initiatives detailed in the plan. Crediting strong volunteer leadership and professional management she said she expects the majority of the goals will be achieved by the end of the five-year period in 2019.
Freedman cited Federation’s Emerging Generation division, “which has grown by leaps and bounds,” as an example of the plans success at this point.