The ICJS and the Torah have something in common: they both value stories.
I used to be a story skeptic, especially in the world of interfaith work.
The Torah, like the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship (CLF), starts with stories. But the Torah’s first commentary, as reported by Rashi in the 11th century, poses a challenge to the Torah starting with stories: shouldn’t the Torah, which is a book primarily about human obligations, start with the first obligation?
I felt a similar challenge arise in me as I began the ICJS fellowship. I used to think the work is so much larger than any one particular story. Don’t we need to focus on the larger systems and patterns at play? The oppressions, the hierarchies, the obstacles that need addressing ASAP? Don’t we need to start with obligations?
And yet, what has stuck with me most through the CLF has been the stories. I’ve listened to Faiza tell stories about her work with her mosque to engage in their youth. I’ve heard Father Joe tell the story of his early transition to a new church with a totally different racial makeup and how he learned to think of his role in a very different way. And I’ve heard stories from other Jews about their struggles to feel like ‘insiders’ in their traditions and their quests for belonging.
It is a Jewish mitzvah, a communal obligation, to read the Torah every year—stories included. And as we read the stories, we have the chance to reflect with curiosity, introspection, and connection. In the story of Abraham, for example, God calls him to leave his family and his homeland and to go to an unknown place. As I read, I wonder: how did Abraham feel? What did he think? I reflect on what it would be like to be called to leave my home and to make a new life and a new community in a new place. Some years when I have had to move to a new house, I have wondered if God was calling to me to the new place. Each year, I find myself with new reflections.
When I hear the stories of my cohort and share stories of my own, I feel us forming a different kind of Torah. Looking to the future, I wonder what it will be like to return to these stories again and again, year after year, as our relationships deepen. As we engage with one another around these stories we practice curiosity, compassion, and self-reflection. And from here, we will build a whole new interreligious culture, and a new tradition.
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.