One USY Chapter's Commitment to Interfaith Programming


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is more than just a time to reflect on civil rights and Jewish-African American relations. For teens at Adath Israel Congregation (AI) in Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s an opportunity to meet with the black community and for Jewish and black communities to learn together. AI USY, Adath Israel’s USY chapter (part of the CRUSY region), hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event in partnership with the Avondale Youth Council, a youth group associated with the Avondale Community Council. Avondale is a historically black neighborhood in Cincinnati with a past that is significantly tied to the Civil Rights Movement. Today, more than 90% of its residents are black.

Sawyer Goldsmith, USY’s 2018 International Religion/Education Vice President (Rel/Ed), spoke with Shayna Kling, AI USY’s president, about their Martin Luther King, Jr. event, as well as other interfaith and inter-community events that the chapter hosts. The MLK event is a full day of programming that aims to show teens from both communities that their ancestral histories are not too different. In the morning, participants hear from a speaker involved with the black community before marching in the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade. Then, the group spends the afternoon at the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education.

“[The USYers] get the Martin Luther King education and remember him on that day and [the Avondale Youth Council] learn about the Holocaust and the similarities that Jews have with the African-American community,” Kling said. “It is unlike anything you would ever get in another aspect of life.”

Kling said that teens from both groups enjoy the program. She specifically mentioned how important it is to meet and get to know people outside of your normal circle.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put yourself in that situation, where you’re meeting entirely new people from a different culture, but afterwards, I only heard positive remarks,” she said. “I think it was good to step outside of those boundaries and meet new and different people.”

Besides the MLK event, AI USY has also hosts community service events with local mosques and churches. With the Muslim community, the chapter hosted a one-off event planting flowers at a local nursing home. They also have an ongoing relationship with different groups of faith as a host congregation for the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati (IHNGC).

IHNGC is an organization that provides homeless families emergency shelter and hospitality through interfaith communities and works with families to find and retain stable housing. Adath Israel is one of 27 host congregations that are responsible for arranging all the details of overnight accommodations for the families.

Families at Adath Israel generally host families in June and December, around the times that the teens have breaks from school. Kling said that the USYers are involved with these homestays.

“We help cook food and meals and play with the little kids and do arts and crafts,” she said. “That’s a really fun one.”

Kling suggests that community service is a particularly effective way to connect with other faith groups. She said that there are many youth organizations in Cincinnati that prioritize social action, just as USY does.

One of Goldsmith’s goals as International Rel/Ed was to foster interfaith connections on the regional and chapter levels. He did this, in part, by appointing an Interfaith Relations chair. However, much of the onus of fulfilling this fell onto individual synagogues and chapters.

From a youth perspective, Kling said that a great first step in organizing an interfaith event is speaking with kehilla staff for support.

“Talk with the staff at your synagogue, because they’re 100% the ones that helped us put these initiatives through,” she said. “If you show the adults that you’re passionate, then they will definitely be willing to take your initiative to the next step and make it happen.”

The opposite is just as true.

If your kehilla is interested in increasing its interfaith engagement, try working with your teens. Using the hard work of Goldsmith, Kling and others as a guide, your congregation can create successful programming with organizations of other faiths.

USCJ is committed to interfaith inclusion. Learn more


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