Interfaith Clergy Connections

by Rabbi Jodie Siff

Building connections and allies with neighboring communities of faith has been a cornerstone of my rabbinate. In Port Washington and Manhasset, being part of interfaith clergy associations has allowed me to walk the path of ministering to RSNS with like minded clergy and building our communities together. Whether facing tragedies like 9/11 or coming together for annual Thanksgiving services, our collaborative efforts have provided solace and strength. Engaging with school districts and superintendents has ensured welcoming environments for diverse faith traditions. Over the past decades, supporting initiatives like Laundry Love, Sandwich making and collective Mitzvah Day experiences demonstrates our commitment to practical compassion. In times of tragedy, small groups for dialogue like our Saalam/Shalom Sisterhood, Shamor, shared celebrations, and mutual support have been vital.

After October 7th, as a result of this hard work some of our allies provided solace, and yet many others did not reach out. This underscores the ongoing need for the hard work of listening and understanding. As we navigate the complexities of our diverse communities, these connections are crucial for fostering unity and healing. At times this is challenging. Not everyone enters into this dialogue. Whether it is not how they define their ministry or they just can’t carve out the time. We as a community are at a crossroads. We have seen an uptick in anti-Semitism both globally and locally. We need these allies more than ever. And that means for me that reaching out and making more time to build these connections and listening and trying to find dialogue partners is more crucial. Although at times hard to be outside the conversations that are comfortable. To really hear why some clergy doesn’t engage.

Out of the Jewish clergy dialoguing with the Port Washington School District leadership because of the anti-Semitic actions at the start of the 2023 school year came Dr. Hynes, the superintendent of the Port Washington School District, extending a thoughtful invitation to a book circle for fifty faith leaders. This collaborative effort aims to foster understanding and unity in Port Washington’s diverse community. The selected book for discussion, “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Seen” by David Brooks, aligns with the shared goal of overcoming hate through meaningful relationships. By engaging faith leaders from various religions, this book talk series seeks to inspire dialogue, empathy, and connection among community members.

Dr. Hynes, demonstrating his commitment to fostering connection and understanding, personally distributed the books to each house of worship. His hands-on approach reflected the belief that leaders should exemplify the art of truly seeing and valuing each other. By taking the time to deliver the books himself, he reinforced the importance of making individuals feel acknowledged and significant. This thoughtful gesture will hopefully set a tone for the book talk series, emphasizing the shared responsibility of community leaders to model the principles of empathy, recognition, and meaningful connection.

At the same time, while building on hyperlocal work in Port Washington, we are also looking at the broader faith leaders in Long Island. We are being asked to participate in a Clergy Prayers for Healing gathering. This gathering will be a place for prayers, reflections, and shared moments, transcending our individual beliefs in the spirit of unity.

Given the current state of our world, with divisions and polarizations escalating more than ever, we clergy must come together to rise above this conflict – to come together in a sacred space and pray together. As clergy, we will share prayers from our diverse faith traditions, and then break into small groups to engage in open and respectful conversations about our respective faith journeys. This is an opportunity to truly listen. This event is meant to be a collective effort of every clergy member on Long Island. And yet it was essential to those organizing that they (we) had to include that the focus will be on the spiritual aspects of our lives, and discussions need to steer clear of politics and ideologies. This is in uncharted territory for the interfaith clergy of Long Island.

We need allies. We need to be allies. This is hard. This is what we need to do. We need to do this work because we live in a diverse world. And in this diverse world, we Jews, just like every other person, want to be seen and understood. That only happens by building connections.

I continue to be humbled by serving our Jewish community and honored to interface with fellow colleagues on behalf of all of you. All of this is serving the goal of living meaningful Jewish lives in the midst of sacred community. May it be so.