If you could sum up successful interfaith dialogue in three words, what would they be?

How about “Homies in Harmony”?

If those aren’t quite the words you had in mind, then you clearly weren’t one of the organizers of last week’s Jews and Muslims Session: Homies in Harmony III.  I wish that I had been able to make the event, because it seems like it was just as successful and entertaining as its name.  Check out this story in the Justice for a full overview of the event, but the basic premise was to create an interfaith conversation that would both allow for discussion of personal, controversial feelings and maintain a level of respect that would encourage participants to form friendships with people from unfamiliar faith tradition.  My good friend Neda Eid helped to organize the event, and she told me after the fact that she was very excited by how well it turned out.  Judging by the quotes from the article, it seems most of the participants felt the same way.

Last year marked a low point for interfaith dialogue at Brandeis.  It seemed that every few weeks introduced another controversy that played itself out in the papers and left a lot of hurt feelings.  The charter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Israel 60th birthday resolution, aspects of the Mamoon Darwish saga and of the Senator-at-Large election and Judiciary case — I’m sure most of you still have sour memories of all of these events.  Even the Boston Globe took note of the firestorm the campus had become.  It’s counterproductive to go back and assign blame for everything that happened (I certainly don’t claim to be innocent myself), but I think it was clear to everyone that something had to change.

And something did change.  To the credit of the entire Brandeis community, this year has been almost completely free of the public battles that marred ’07-’08.  It’s hard to say exactly what did it; perhaps everyone just got tired of seeing so much bad blood.  Regardless, everyone at Brandeis should be proud that the interfaith dialogue on campus has improved so substantially over last year.

However, this clearly doesn’t mean that anger and bitterness don’t still exist.  Tension among religious groups has existed as long as humans have; should we really expect it to disappear overnight from our campus?  And just because it isn’t spilled out over the front pages of the Hoot and the Justice doesn’t mean that it has no effect and that we are best off ignoring it.  JAM Session should serve as a model for how to deal with these tensions productively and turn them into tools for strengthening our community.  It seems that plans are already in place to develop a more frequent series of conversations, and I encourage everyone to get involved with this in some way.  The elephant in the room is the Israeli-Palestinian tension, the biggest source of interfaith conflict on campus.  JAM Session wisely kept the focus on more general interfaith issues (though Israel/Palestine wasn’t explicitly excluded), but eventually that discussion needs to be had.  We should look at JAM Session as a model for approaching these issues in a way that allows respectful disagreement and productive action.  Brandeis has come a long way since last year, and though we may not be there yet, I have great confidence that we’ll eventually be able to engage even the thorniest of issues and remain homies in harmony.

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