As someone who grew up in a Jewish household, within a Jewish community, who now spends my day-to-day job as a Jewish communal professional, I can admit that my knowledge of the Christian and Muslim faiths have been, up until this point, very minimal. Most of what I had previously known about these other two religions were things I picked up through media and through my peers’ celebrations and observances of Christmas, Easter, and Ramadan.
I work in the religious nonprofit world, and I deeply cherish the opportunities being an ICJS Justice Leader Fellow have given me. I’ve learned about, and more importantly, created relationships with members of other faith communities whom I can now continue to explore justice with from an interreligious lens.
Through the practice of sharing personal narratives with our cohort, I have learned that my experiences are both very similar to some, and very different from others. I have learned that faith and religion is practiced and interpreted in each individual fellow’s life differently.
I consider myself a proud, practicing Jewish individual. My interpretation of practicing falls somewhere on a spectrum of levels of devotion. I attended religious school as a child. I had a Bat Mitzvah at the age of 13, which at the time was a major life milestone because it meant I got to have a huge party. But now, as an adult, I am proud of the act of becoming a B’nai Mitzvah for different reasons. I have come to appreciate the meaning of my religious practice as I find faith in my adulthood. I find validation and comfort in knowing that my religion has answers for me when I may not otherwise know how to interpret life’s challenges.
I have learned through the sharing of my fellows’ personal narratives that my experiences may be unique to me as a Jewish person, but they are not unique to everyone else who has found guidance through their religion, even if they practice a different faith. There is something comforting about knowing that while the beliefs may be different, religion provides almost a safety net for all of us when we don’t know where else to look.
Within our fellowship we’ve discussed that talking about religion in the year 2023 is somewhat of a taboo. It’s not something that is often brought up in secular spaces or in day-to-day conversations. When religion is brought up, in most spaces, it is within the realm of differences or conflicts.
So why is this? Why is religion such a taboo subject? Frankly, I don’t have the answer to that question. What I do have is a new hunger to talk about religion—to learn more about the religions of others. At the end of the day, what I’ve learned from this fellowship is that we all have many more similarities than differences. When focusing on social justice, the foundations of all three Abrahamic religions roughly tend to believe the same thing.
In terms of economic justice, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have similar beliefs. We all want to create a world in which everyone has enough to get by—ideally, more than enough. Yet each religion goes about this in different but complementary ways.
In Judaism we practice tzedakah, or justice in Hebrew. Growing up, I had thought tzedakah just meant charity. Throughout my learning in this fellowship, I now understand that the act of giving tzedakah is not just to be charitable, but rather it is an expectation to help those who need help when you are able to provide it.
Similarly, in Islam, Muslims practice sadaqah, which is their version of charitable giving. The two words, “tzedakah” and “sadaqah” sound similar phonetically, and the principle of the practices are strikingly similar too. In both faiths we are obligated to contribute to this form of charitable giving.
In my current work of working to combat antisemitism, my organization has taken a strong role in trying to build relationships outside of the Jewish community. The more you know about someone else, the harder it is to be intolerant of their identity. I have been inspired to continue fostering relationships with my peers in both the Muslim and Christian communities to ensure that we engage and learn from and with each other. While intolerance and hatred thrive on the division of our communities, it is even more important to build those relationships of shared dialogue and mutual respect. I look forward to implementing my new knowledge of interfaith interpretations of justice to bring together my Jewish community with those of other faiths.
Emily Goodman is the Director of Holocaust and Countering Antisemitism Programming at Baltimore Jewish Council and a member of the 2022-2023 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.
Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.