A Jew, Christian, Hindu, Bahá’í, and Muslim walk into a synagogue… what happens next might surprise you
“Now more than ever, we need to come together, and what better way to do that than over food.”—Shared Table attendee
Looking at the way the world is now, it’s hard to imagine calm. But, there is a way forward. On Wednesday 27 July, an interfaith event called The Shared Table was held at the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, one of Auckland’s two synagogues, with people of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Baháʼí faiths.
Great religious and cultural diversity is rarely so concentrated in a single space in Aotearoa. UoA Chaplain, Tim Pratt, summarised the importance of these events, saying that by experiencing a different faith, people learned more about their beliefs and their similarities with the other groups around them. Jill Shaw, a Massey University Chaplain, similarly commented, “How beautiful [it is] to sit together and realise how much we have in common.”
We can’t ignore how religious intolerance has negatively impacted many people throughout history. Before dinner, guests toured the synagogue, beginning at a sculpture symbolising the Holocaust, which saw the persecution and genocide of Jewish, Roma, Gay people, Communists, people with disabilities, and people of other faiths that tried to help these victims.
Previously, Shared Table events were held at the University’s McLauren Chapel, and last week was the first time the group gathered at the synagogue. Organisers hoped it would feel welcoming to those who might not always feel comfortable in other holy spaces. “The world often feels so divided despite progressing towards a more secular mindset,” one attendee said, “It’s refreshing to meet with people of different faiths and understand them more personally than what can be found through Google or hearsay.”
Social media, and media in general, play a massive part in how we build walls of prejudice and bias around ourselves. Breaking down these barriers begins with a conversation. The Shared Table is an opportunity for people of different faiths to get to know one another—if you want to understand someone, you actually have to talk to them!
One person said, “[It] was so beautiful having open, curious, and supportive conversations.” Another said, “It was a great chance to network, extend friendships, and become acquainted with people from diverse faith and cultural backgrounds, which is so essential to inclusively develop a culture of peace, harmony, unity, social cohesion, and solidarity across society.” Conversation topics ranged from our faiths to the new Ms Marvel show.
It didn’t matter what we spoke about, but rather that we spoke. The act of having a conversation opens more doors than we realise. Conversation leads to connection, leading to understanding and cooperation. Opening up and sharing a bit about ourselves will ultimately do good for the world. We implore you to try it, it may be nerve-wracking, but we find even awkwardness can lead to a conversation.
The University of Auckland has very few prayer spaces on campus. The main one is the MacLauren Chapel (which, by the way, is also open during the day and is a really nice place to study). But we can really do more to show people of faith that UoA is a welcoming space. In fact, we can start with giving Muslim students a proper prayer space at Grafton. From personal experience, the prayer space at the Grafton campus is a closet shared with the club’s lockers. Furthermore, where are the clearly labelled halal and kosher options at the Quad or Munchy Mart?
We must give space for students to find themselves, physically and spiritually. The compulsory club executive training rarely covers faith-based discrimination—something extremely concerning with the rise of faith-based hate like antisemitism. Under the Māori model Te Whare Tapa Wha, spiritual health is the roof of the whare—an essential aspect of health. If we apply this model to student wellbeing, we see that, for students to feel safe, we must take spiritual health into account.
I could write about interfaith dialogue all day, but the fact is, I’m not the only one who sees benefit in shared tables. Butler University researchers, Bevan et al (2021), shows that participating in interfaith events helps people be more empathetic. Whether it’s health, law, politics, or research, we must cooperate to live life fully, without discrimination and fear. Bevan et al (2021) noted that interfaith dialogue makes a person a better listener and communicator and more likely to embrace a growth mindset.1 Shahela, UoA’s one and only Muslim Chaplain, said, “There is so much in common that we share, and yet our differences add colour and depth to the picture.” An attendee also thought that “Inter-faith dialogue and collaboration is so important. Religion and faith are a major part of many people’s lives […] learning about religion is about people and our history. Now more than ever, we need to come together, and what better way to do that than over food.”
As students, we are paving the way for the future of our society. It is up to us to be welcoming, embracing, and understanding. Shared Table events help to satisfy the world’s need for connectedness. Now more than ever, we need to engage and understand each other effectively. This is why future Shared Tables will take place at other places of worship. In the works at the moment is a “Shared Table Advisory Group” and a future trip to a Mosque or Temple. The Shared Table is for everyone, you don’t have to be religious or even belong to a religion to come (we have had atheists attend). The Shared Table aims to build bridges rather than walls between us, and as such, it is counterproductive to exclude people. The only requirement for attending is an open mind and a willingness to make friends.
Of course, more needs to be done—don’t even get me started on the prayer spaces at the Epsom and Southern campuses. However, I firmly believe in what I said at the beginning of that night: “the path to a peaceful future began when you walked through the door into this building”. As a final message, I would like to leave you with a quote from Tim Pratt: “Some of our upbringings guide us towards our future; it represents part of our story, our identity as a person”, let the beauty of your individuality be enjoyed by those around you.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Astor Foundation for funding and organising the Shared Table events. Thank the AHC Board for letting us into their space and to David Goodman, Elisheva, and Noam Fogel for guiding us through it. Thank you to Sapeer Mahon, and Nathan Levy for their invaluable assistance with this article and to our attendants.
If you are interested in attending the following Shared Table or joining our Student Advisory Committee, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Patel, M., Beaven, H., Ewing, B., & Myers D. Better Together: An Exploration of Interfaith Ideologies. https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/buwell/vol6/iss1/3/