Photos and Recap by: Megan Deppen, intern at Niagara Foundation and student at DePaul University
Negative temperatures and piercing winds of the winter vortex couldn’t dampen the electric atmosphere of Niagara’s 10th Annual Abrahamic Traditions Dinner, the closing event of the Chicago Interfaith Gathering. On February 6th, professors, laity, government officials, and religious leaders joined us to celebrate religious diversity at the Spertus Institute on Michigan Avenue.
With glowing city lights as the backdrop, speakers from each of the Abrahamic traditions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) led the celebration in talking about models of healing in their religious traditions. Unique to this Traditions Dinner was the age of our panelists. Our goal in showcasing the youthful religious voices of Chicago was to foreshadow the rise of an involved, active, interfaith community.
Leading the series of speakers was Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, founder of the Jewish organization, Mishkan Chicago. Rabbi Heydemann was ordained by the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies in 2010, and served as the first Revson Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR in Los Angeles. She was a 2013 ROI Fellow, was named one of Chicago’s “36 Under 36” by JUF’s OyChicago, and was named one of the Top 20 Real Rabbis by myjewishlearning.org.
Rabbi Heydemann brought a wealth of knowledge from her tradition, and illustrated the value of living out Judaic values every day. As an example, Heydemann described the first six days of the week as the world we live in; selfishness, greed, and disregard are often the realities of daily life. The world as it should be, Rabbi Heydemann reflected, is the Shabbat, or the holy day of the week in the Jewish tradition. Preserving her tradition’s history and values, as well as embracing other faiths and traditions, contributes to the world as it should be, Rabbi Heydemann said.
Following Rabbi Heydemann was Reverend Zach Mills, the active director at the Center for African American Theological Education (CAATS) at the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) in Chicago. Rev. Mills also currently serves as adjunct faculty for homiletics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Rev. Mills confronted the interreligious tension and controversy that ensued when anti-islamic activists in his hometown Mufreesburo, Tennessee vehemently protested the construction of a mosque.
“There is a disease in America… This is a disease of hateful narrow-mindedness …It is religious bigotry,” Rev. Mills said.
Drawing from his own Christian tradition, Rev. Mills spoke of the hyperbole within the Bible and how it urges Christians to expand their thinking and engage in loving relationships with others. Rev. Mills explained that his understanding of Biblical stories and values grew rather than receded after he interacted with other faiths; that interreligious friendship and dialogue play a pivotal role in strengthening the relationship to one’s own faith.
Closing the panel was Rami Nashashibi. Since its incorporation as a nonprofit in 1997, Nashashibi has served as the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). He also has a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Chicago. Nashashibi has been an adjunct professor at various colleges and universities across the Chicagoland area, where he has taught a range of Sociology, Anthropology, and other Social Science courses.
All human beings are in a state of error, Nashashibi said, but the best of them are those that turn back to God. Similar to Rabbi Heydemann and Rev. Mills, Nashashibi stressed the role religious dedication plays in guiding us through the darkest times in life. Nashashibi also emphasized that healing the broken family and restoring human dignity is an integral part of the Abrahamic Traditions.
The moment the panel closed, the roar of conversation filled the room. Illustrative of our goal and the foundation’s mission, strangers became friends, and silence was replaced with dialogue. The three panelists, of different beliefs, backgrounds, and traditions, and who only first met at the event, were laughing and exchanging thoughts, ideas, and contact information by the end.
We are thankful to our guests and speakers for embracing the fellowship of interfaith dialogue and helping us celebrate both the distinguishing and the overlapping qualities of the Abrahamic Traditions.