Category Archives: Interfaith

International Conference of Christians and Jews Statement on the “Holydays”


22.04.2016  International Conference of Christians and Jews

Dear Members of the ICCJ Family,

As I mentioned in my Easter greetings, this year we have the somewhat unusual situation of the celebration of Passover by our Jewish friends (beginning on April 22) significantly separated from when our Christian friends observe Easter in the both the West (March 27) and the East (May 1).

I thought this separation provided an opportunity to share some distinct thoughts on each of these holydays that are so central in their respective ways for Jews and Christians. Regarding Easter I considered how the Gospel passion narratives are read liturgically during Holy Week (read my reflections on Easter 2016 on ICCJ’s website). Here I’d like to reflect on the impact of Pesach outside the Jewish community.

Preparing for the ICCJ annual conference here in Philadelphia in July has brought to my mind once again the crucial importance of the Exodus story for African American Christians. The sentiment expressed in the Passover Haggadah that “In every generation, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt” was lived out viscerally by Africans enslaved in European colonies in North America and later in the United States. Although they were forced to adopt the Christian faith of their masters, that tradition — deeply rooted in biblical Israel — conveyed the subversive perspective that the God of Israel is a God of freedom: freedom from captivity and freedom from death.

Before and during the American Civil War, Philadelphia had the largest population of “free blacks” in the United States. The whole of Pennsylvania, situated near the boundary between the anti-slavery “Union” and the pro-slavery “Confederacy,” was a major milestone on the “Underground Railroad,” a clandestine network of waystations and secret routes to speed fleeing slaves away from the southern states and into the north.

The Christian hymns composed and sung by African Americans in the context of slavery expressed their hopes and fears for the future. Using somewhat “coded language,” they sang about Moses going down to Pharaoh to demand, “Let my people go!” They sang, “Follow the drinking gourd” (the constellation of the Plough, Big Dipper, or Great Bear) northward across the Jordan Rivers in their path to a land of freedom. They sang “Swing low, sweet chariot” about rescuing angels helping them in their flight to the Promised Land. Of course, they read Israel’s story through Christian lenses and also sang “Precious Lord, take my hand,” closely identifying their own suffering with the suffering of Jesus on the cross (a motif vividly and horribly reprised in the “lynching era” from around 1880-1920).

It is one thing to read about the musical legacy of African slaves and their descendants in the “Negro spirituals.” It’s another to hear it. Click on this link for the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Rev. Velva Maia Thomas speak and sing movingly about this tradition and its coded messages of hope and faith in a two-minute video.

What does this story of the African American spirituals tell us? Among other things, to me it is a reminder that the Passover traditions are a gift of God to the People of Israel, but they are a gift that extends beyond the Jewish community in many, many ways. The annual celebration of the Seder inspires more people than only those sitting around the table in Jewish homes.

And on behalf of the ICCJ Executive Board, the greeting of Chag Pesach Sameach to our Jewish friends this year also conveys gratitude for the faithfulness of Jews in commemorating God’s saving deeds every year in rituals that have blessed the lives and prayers of literally billions of people in far-flung parts of the world.

Philip A. Cunningham

ICCJ President

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network: “Pittsburgh Police Reform Benefits From Structural Approach”


From the Gamaliel Network website:


Posted by: Gordon on 1/26/2016
PIIN Public Safety Task Force

Top, PIIN kicked off its public safety task force campaign “From Marches to Measurables” in February 2015; bottom, Police Chief Cameron McLay reported back at the group’s public meeting in November on progress made in restoring police-community trust. 

Leaders of Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, PIIN, began planning their campaign to improve public safety in Pittsburgh more than a year ago.

At the one-year anniversary of a kickoff public meeting where they called on the police and community to “Move from Marches to Measurables,” last February, they say the campaign has changed not just policing in Pittsburgh, but the way they look at their organizing work as well.

Rev. DeNeice Welch, chair of PIIN’s spiritual leaders caucus and current chair of Gamaliel’s Ntosake national women’s leadership table and Darlene Figgs, chair of the PIIN Public Safety Task Force, reflected on the campaign recently.

At the end of 2014 PIIN leaders knew they needed to do something. Distrust between the police and community was at an all-time high. The ACLU was suing Pittsburgh’s police department because since 2001, only 23 out of about 530 police officers hired were African-American, or about 4%, although the city is 26% black. Their chief had recently gone to jail and the official overseeing police had recently resigned. News from St. Louis, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere was even worse.

“Our caucus was rocked by events,” Welch says. “We got a new public safety director, new chief of police and the events in Ferguson all happened at the same time.”

With input from the ACLU and a researcher at Pitt Law School they formulated six demands for Police Chief Chief Cameron McLay:

  • Relationships: quarterly open, structured community forum every quarter beginning June 2015
  • Training: annual trainings to include implicit bias, racial reconciliation and procedural justice up and down within the bureau beginning in 2016
  • Recruitment and Hiring: measurable diversification of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau based on accurate demographics of the city of Pittsburgh beginning in 2016
  • Tracking: data collection and interpretation as a standard means to improve overall policing, police accountability and better policy, effective immediately
  • Policy: drafting Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s policy on body worn cameras by June 2015
  • Accountability: participating in PIIN’s November 2015 Public Action Meeting to report back on progress

The chief agreed to work with them on the demands at that February meeting , but they knew implementation would be the hard part. What happened next, though, was the surprise: after a group of leaders and staff from PIIN attended Gamaliel’s Race and Power summit in June, they realized that they needed to look at the deeper structures and systems that had in many ways pitted the police department and the community against each other.

Focusing on structural racism

The Gamaliel Race and Power Summit in June opened Figgs’ and Welch’s eyes to a new way of looking at the campaign, one that focuses squarely on structural racism, instead of ignoring issues of race or addressing them obliquely. “When we were back at the February meeting we hadn’t been to Detroit,” Welch says. We were attacking the structures without knowing we were attacking the structures.

“Before the summit, we would have demanded that the police force recruit African-American candidates [for the force] and walked away,” Welch adds. “But now we know candidates of color cannot survive the culture that exists within the police force”—and it’s going to take training and constant monitoring to shift the culture as needed.

Figgs and Welch say they and other PIIN leaders and staff learned more about implicit bias and saw how some affiliates’ leaders were looking at themselves and their own organizations to interrogate their own backgrounds of internalized oppression and white privilege, and the impact of these influences on their work together.

While meetings with local police commanders proceeded throughout the year, the Public Safety Task Force leaders, a group of about 30 from across the city and suburbs about evenly divided between whites and people of color, organized a series of fishbowl conversations to look at themselves: white task force members would discuss a question amongst themselves while African-American members listened, then the two groups flipped roles. Facilitated debriefing sessions followed.

The work helped strengthen the group, and helped them to understand that just hiring more officers would not be enough to make the change they want. “The culture doesn’t support them being there,” Welch says. “As a result, over 50 percent of the African American officers are retiring and we have nobody in the pipeline to replace them. There’s a1907 civil service law that the police department and police union has been using to discriminate against people of color. Now we know to go after that – rather than just pushing for more recruits of color.”

Local meetings have been a success. When a Muslim cab driver was shot in the city on Thanksgiving, PIIN leaders were able to connect the head of the local Islamic Center to the right police commander thanks to the relationships they had built over the past year.

Another positive development last year came when the Department of Justice announced it would invest $1 million in the training the group had requested through its National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, one of 6 places in the country selected. Pittsburgh was chosen in part because the creators of the Justice program saw an emerging culture of community-police trust, they told PIIN leaders with whom they met.

In November, McLay had just one request when he attended the group’s public meeting where PIIN leadership declared a new organizational goal: not just to address organizing issues but to build the beloved community, and he had just one request: “Do I get to hold the microphone this time?”

More remains to do. On some issues, like body cameras, they have had to take the pressure to the state Legislature, which slowed them down on that front. In general, the process of focusing on structures and addressing race explicitly takes longer. But they are also being more thorough. The Public Safety Task Force will press on, Figgs says: “We want this to be lasting, not a quick fix.”

“A Sacred Calling, A Pivotal Moment”- A Conversation on the Newest Statements about the Christian-Jewish Relationship


From the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA

“A Sacred Calling, A Pivotal Moment”

A Conversation on the Newest Statements about the Christian-Jewish Relationship

Including the first theological statement by the Catholic Church in 30 years

February 24, 2016 at 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Doyle Banquet Hall South, Campion Student Center [campus map]

At the end of 2015, three significant statements from the Vatican, the French Jewish community, and a group of Orthodox rabbis were issued on the relationship between Christians and Jews. The Institute has invited some leading scholars to SJU for a consultation to study these texts, many of whom will join in a public conversation about these fascinating documents. The texts are available at the bottom of the webpage found HERE.




Historic Announcement That Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill Will Meet

Gerard O’Connell | Feb 5 2016 – 7:27am

Pope Francis and the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet in Cuba on Feb 12. It is the first ever meeting between the heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, a truly historic event. (more)

Upcoming Events at the Georgetown University Program for Jewish Civilization


The Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University has announced the following events:

Poetry in the Center
A Mini Series

All events will be held on Wednesdays in February at 4pm in the Philodemic Room (Healy Hall 208).

Series convened by: David Ebenbach, Georgetown University

February 3 – David Gewanter, Georgetown University

February 10Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Sara Lawrence College

February 17 – Jehanne Dubrow, Washington College

February 24 – Jaimee Kuperman, Author of You Look Nice Strange Man

Directions to the venue as well as parking information for campus is available at



Reflections of Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Europe
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
6 PM
Riggs Library, Healy Hall
Abraham Foxman
Former National Director, Anti-Defamation League
RSVP is requested. Reception to follow.


Understanding Contemporary European Anti-Semitism
Monday, February 29, 2016
8am – 5pm
Lohrfink Auditorium, Hariri Building

Participants Will Include:

Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish committee
Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, U.S. Department of State
Aleksandra Gliszczyńska-Grabias, Poznan Human Rights Centre
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Author of The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism
Floriane Hohenberg, Former Director, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department, Organization for Security, and Co-operation in Europe
Jytte Klausen, Brandeis University
Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University
Saskia Pantell, Zionist Federation of Sweden
Ambassador David Saperstein, U.S. Department of State
Esther Voet, Former Editor in Chief, Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad


Art in the Center

A Mini Series

All events will be held on Wednesdays in April at4pm in the Philodemic Room (Healy Hall 208).

Series convened by: Ori Soltes, Georgetown University

April 6 – Elaine Langerman,

April 13 – Gerald Wartofsky,

April 27 – Zachary Oxman,


‘Nostra Aetate’: A Lever That Moved the World


The 2016 John Courtney Murray, S.J., Lecture, delivered by Rabbi Daniel Polish. America Magazine, January 14, 2016

Coverage in America includes a transcript and video of the entire lecture, and can be accessed here.

Rabbi Daniel Polish

January 12, 2016, New York

It is a great honor to be with you this evening. I am grateful to America Magazine and to Matt Malone for inviting me to share some reflections on the “Nostra Aetate,” the document from the Second Vatican Council that was issued 50 years ago last Oct. 28. (more)

Rabbi Daniel Polish

Rabbi Polish serves Congregation Shir Chadash of the Hudson Valley in LaGrangeville, N.Y., and is vice-chairman of the International Committee for Interreligious Consultations. He is also the author of Bringing the Psalms to Life, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001.

Pope Francis Visits the Major Temple of Rome


Pope Francis visit to Synagogue in Rome

Today Pope Francis, as part of his ongoing efforts to express solidarity with the Jewish people, visited the Major Temple of Rome.  This excellent article from the Catholic News Agency provides a historical perspective.

‘How good it is for brothers to be together’ – a papal history in synagogues

By Angela Ambrogetti 

.- On Sunday Pope Francis will become the third pontiff to cross the threshold of the Major Temple in Rome, the most important and significant synagogue in the city.

Thirty years have passed since the historic visit of John Paul II in 1986, and in these decades the relationship between Jews and Catholics has become closer, more intense, and, because of this, not absent of difficulty. (more)



A new Vatican document has broken theological ground by stating explicitly that Jews can be saved despite not believing in Jesus Christ. A Jewish commentator hails the conclusion as the most significant advance in Christian-Jewish dialogue in half a century. The Tablet, The International Catholic News Weekly, January 7, 2016

Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council published an epoch-changing document on relations with Jews and Judaism entitled Nostra Aetate, which means “In Our Time”. It symbolised a transformation in Jewish-Christian dialogue and, according to a leading American campaigner against anti-Semitism, Fr Edward Flannery, “terminated in a stroke a millennial teaching of contempt of Jews and Judaism and unequivocally asserted the Church’s debt to its Jewish heritage”.(more)

Edward Kessler

Edward Kessler

Dr Edward Kessler MBE is Founder Director of the Woolf Institute and Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is a leading thinker in interfaith relations, primarily, Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. In 2007, Dr Kessler was described by The Times Higher Education Supplement as ‘probably the most prolific interfaith figure in British academia’ and was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to interfaith relations. The Woolf Institute, University of Cambridge

The Woolf Institute is a global leader in the academic study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.




Austin Interfaith

From the West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation:

Last July, Hidden Valley / High Meadows (mobile home) residents became distressed when lot rents for people on month-to-month leases were raised for the second time within a 12-month period.  New rules mandated improvements and standardizations — adding new costs to residents — including deck and railing upgrades, paint jobs, skirting repair, shed standardization, and control over inside window coverings.  Families were asked to demonstrate possession of a drivers’ license to drive on the property, impacting hundreds of residents. Many families scrambled to comply; some left.

A couple residents reached out to the pastor of their church, a member congregation of  Austin Interfaith, and their local councilperson who called in Austin Interfaith and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for support.  Within two months, resident officers founded their association (Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents’ Association) and signed up over 200 households as members. (more)

International Council of Christians and Jews President Dr. Philip Cunningham Summarizes 2015 in Interreligious Relations


ICCJ logo


The following New Year’s Message was composed by Dr. Philip Cunningham, President of the International Council of Christians and Jews. Dr. Cunningham also serves as director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University. The Justice Factory is grateful to Dr. Eugene Fisher for forwarding this information, posted here with the permission of Dr. Cunningham.

ICCJ – President’s New Year’s Greetings for 2016

Dr Philip A. Cunningham, ICCJ President

January 1, 2016

Dear Members of the ICCJ Family, our member organizations and friends:

Best wishes to everyone for health and happiness in the New Year of 2016 on the common calendar! The turn of the year is a chance for reflection on the past year and for looking forward to the year ahead. In terms of interreligious relations generally, 2015 has been a year with both positive and negative features.

On the positive side, there were in 2015 many celebrations and retrospective assessments of the progress made in Christian-Jewish relations on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate. A highlight for the ICCJ was the annual conference in Rome that was hosted by the Amicizia Ebraico-Cristiana di Roma in collaboration with the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. In addition to a private audience with Pope Francis, during which the pontiff offered significant remarks and then personally greeted the more than 260 ICCJ participants, the conference featured numerous substantive plenary and workshop sessions that considered the past, present, and future of interreligious relations. Much of the content of these sessions is available on ICCJ’s website ( and a DVD containing additional material as workshop and other reports, pictures and videos is in preparation.

There were also significant anniversary observances held in many countries around the world, several sponsored by ICCJ national member organizations. Important statements and publications were issued in connection with these observances. Besides an ICCJ document in June that was endorsed by most of our national member organizations, toward the end of the year three notable statements were promulgated by the French Jewish community, by a group of American, European, and Israeli Orthodox rabbis, and by the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. Here are some quotations from such texts and statements by prominent leaders that personally struck me as very noteworthy:

The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. … This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra Aetate (cf. no. 4), and upon this solid basis can be and must developed yet further.
Pope Francis, “Address to the International Council of Christians and Jews”

In a move whose sincerity has been proven, the Church has made a decisive turning point of theological significance. … This reversal … sanctifies God’s name, forever commands respect, and constitutes a precedent of exemplary character for all religions and spiritual beliefs on the planet. What is our duty, now that the highest representatives of Christian institutions have expressed the wish to be replanted, to be regrafted onto the trunk of Israel? To welcome Christianity as the religion of our brothers and sisters in synergy with Judaism.
French Jewish leaders, “Declaration for the Upcoming Jubilee of Brotherhood”

From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Such a claim would find no support in the soteriological understanding of Saint Paul, who… decisively asserts: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.
Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews,
“‘The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29): A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (No. 4).”

[W]e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations. In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies. … Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.
Group of Orthodox Rabbis, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven:
Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.”

As religious people, we believe that making mutual interreligious understanding the priority must guide all of our conversations and actions in the years ahead. We need to strive to be critically self-aware of how our own respective presuppositions and histories can hinder genuine empathy and insight.
ICCJ, “Celebrating and Deepening the New Christian-Jewish Relationship.”

To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.
Pope Francis, remarks to a World Jewish Congress delegation.

And I say to you that a true Jew cannot be anti-Christian or anti-Muslim.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at reception for heads of Israeli Christian communities.

Even removed from their larger contexts, these quotations testify to the advances of recent decades in interreligious understanding. They also provide cues for how the new relationship between Jews and Christians can further develop and how deeper ties with Islam can be pursued.

As we’re all deeply aware, 2015 also witnessed the intensification and spread of wanton terrorism, frequently accompanied by incitements to hatred and violence couched in pseudo-religious language. The mass murder of innocent people, some targeted because of their religious affiliation, contributed to the displacement of vast populations of helpless refugees. In several countries extreme and divisive rhetoric played on religious and ethnic fears for political advantage.

These circumstances make even more crucial the mission we all share of providing accurate information about religious traditions and dispelling stereotypes and vile caricatures. In September, the ICCJ’s Executive Board and the International Abrahamic Forum issued “You Shall Love the Stranger as Yourself (Lev 19:34): A Statement on Migration and Refugees in Europe”, which concluded, “Let our shared religious values shine forth and welcome all seeking refuge, irrespective of race or religion.” Additionally, in December the International Abrahamic Forum, in cooperation with the Council of Christians and Jews of the United Kingdom and other local organizations, offered a highly-praised seminar in Manchester, U.K. entitled “Challenging Antisemitism and Islamophobia.” National member organizations have also launched many noble initiatives in service of interreligious amity.

On behalf of the Executive Board, I want to thank everyone who labors with great dedication to unite people of different religious heritages in our common humanity, especially in a climate that promotes division and fear. We stand ready to be of service to our member organizations as best we can.

Some of the challenges we all face stem from the fact that people of different religious convictions are increasingly in contact with one another on a shrinking globe. Religious pluralism and how it affects different national contexts has been a theme of recent ICCJ annual conferences, and we will return to it at our 2016 gathering in Philadelphia. Hosted by the national member organization for the United States, the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations (, it will occur from Sunday, 10 July through Wednesday, 13 July 2016. The theme will be “The Dynamics of Religious Pluralism in a Changing World: The Philadelphia, USA, and International Contexts.” The new year of 2016 will mark the 240th anniversary of the signing in Philadelphia of the “Declaration of Independence,” a document that led in 1789 to the Constitution’s “non-establishment” clause, which legally prohibits preferential treatment by the government of any particular religious tradition. In the course of history, this principle has sometimes been ignored, but it is appropriate that it was inscribed in the city founded by the Quaker William Penn as a place where all religions could be practiced freely. The 2016 ICCJ conference will explore this and other topics—ongoing and new—that impinge on interreligious relations.

Allow me to conclude with a catena of excerpts from an essay by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Although written fifty years ago, his insights are perhaps even more compelling in 2016 than they were in 1966:
The religions of the world are no more self-sufficient, no more independent, no more isolated than individuals or nations. Energies, experiences and ideas that come to life outside the boundaries of a particular religion or all religions continue to challenge and to affect every religion. Horizons are wider, dangers are greater. No religion is an island. We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us. Today religious isolationism is a myth. We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism. Should we refuse to be on speaking terms with one another and hope for each other’s failure? Or should we pray for each other’s health, and help one another in preserving one’s respective legacy, in preserving a common legacy? Is it not our duty to help one another in trying to overcome hardness of heart, in cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery, in unlocking doors to holiness in time? Perhaps it is the will of God that in this aeon there should be diversity in our forms of devotion and commitment to Him. In this aeon diversity of religions is the will of God.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “No Religion is an Island”,
Union Seminary Quarterly Review ​