by Rabbi Dana Saroken, ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellow

Q: How has the fellowship experience helped you rethink how your congregation builds bridges across inter/intra- religious differences? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities for growth?

A: Participating in this fellowship has given me the opportunity to familiarize myself with other clergy, leaders and congregants within the greater religious community. In terms of the inter-religious differences, I found that the people who represented the different faith communities who participated in this group were open-minded, open-hearted, and interested in other religions and religious traditions. There was a lovely generosity in the way that people communicated, listened and responded to one another. In the intra-religious realm things felt a bit trickier. When we tried to create a set of practices, theology and ideology, to present “Judaism” to non-Jews, it became a complicated process. Not for the expected reasons, the complications existed between those who could communicate as “insiders” and those who felt marginalized through the fast-paced conversation and language that may not have been familiar to everyone in the group, which led to discomfort. The opportunities for growth seemed to me to be systemic. When we work together with others to create something it’s important to have time on our side so that intra-religiously we extend the same thoughtfulness and inclusivity that we would to those who aren’t within our faith tradition.

Q: This year the cohort explored the concepts of belonging, human dignity and flourishing from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives. What do you see as the connection between human dignity, belonging, and flourishing? How might this connection inform one’s relationship to self, G-d, and others?

A: It seems that when people feel a sense of belonging they also feel that their dignity is protected. From this place, people tend to also extend that same generosity and compassion to others.

Q: How do we create barriers that prevent dignity, belonging, and flourishing?

A: In our virtual world it is complicated to create a sense of belonging, but chats, and the opportunity to use different mediums of gathering are important. Small group conversations can help people feel safe and supported. Wholehearted listening and affirming or curiosity as a response can also help people feel both connected and holy.

Q: In what ways has this fellowship helped you see yourself as an interreligious leader within your congregation? What challenges and opportunities does that pose for you as a leader?

A: My sense is that the separation that was caused by COVID and the virtual replacement of what would have otherwise been “real presence” in a room impacted the feeling of community within the group. Yet even with these obstacles, it was important to begin the process of knowing other religious leaders and to have the opportunity to spend time together. We are very excited to create a shared program with AMES United Methodist Church for our respective communities. This project seems to be affording us the opportunity to dive in deeper into our relationship with one another and to work toward a shared goal.


The ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is a year long fellowship designed to connect local congregations from within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities and expand their capacity for interreligious engagement and leadership. Throughout the year cohort members will offer reflections on interreligious leadership. Each contributor represents their own views and opinions. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and seek to foster dialogue around the topics presented.

Rabbi Dana Saroken is a rabbi at Beth El Synagogue, founder of the Soul Center, and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…