This year, one of my goals as International Religion/Education Vice President was to foster some sort of interfaith connection in each region. I recently spoke with AI USY chapter president, Shayna Kling to discuss how her chapter experiences their interfaith connection in CRUSY. Outside USY, Shayna is a part of her schools Jewish Student Union (JSU) and participates in interfaith projects through JSU as well! You can find the interview below! I will provide links at the end to the different organizations that Shayna mentions.
Saywer Goldsmith: What community of faith has your chapter partnered with?
Shayna Kling: We have a couple of different projects that we’ve done with our synagogue. The first one was an interfaith initiative with a local Mosque, so the Muslim community. And we planted flowers at a local nursing home. And we also partnered with the conformation class, so the 10th graders, and we planted flowers and got our hands all dirty and gardening to clean up the community center. And we also played bingo with the residents there. And got to meet lots of different kids from the Muslim community who we otherwise probably would not have interacted with, which was really cool.
SK: Our synagogue and the USY chapter also do a program called the Interfaith Hospitality Network…Different churches and synagogues host this group of families who are homeless and they host them for a week at a time, and get volunteers to cook for them and play with the kids at night and take the families to interviews so they can get back on their feet. And so our USY chapter has always volunteered with that. We usually do it in June and in December, so around the holidays and right before summer starts. And we help cook food and meals and play with the little kids and do arts and crafts and that’s a really fun one.
SK: And then we also have a Martin Luther King, Jr. March that we do where we combine with the Avondale Youth Council…and it’s a tradition that we have every year with our synagogue and their Christian youth group. And we have a speaker come in and we all eat breakfast together and then go to downtown Cincinnati to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March. And then they come afterwards…to Cincinnati’s local Holocaust and Humanity Center and they learn about the Holocaust and different aspects about that. So we get the Martin Luther King education and remember him on that day and they learn about the Holocaust and the similarities that Jews have between the African American community… It is unlike anything you would ever get in another aspect of life, which I really like. Also, we involve the whole community, so lots of adults are involved as well in the program and get the education aspect too. And they love seeing that the USYers are there and are willing to learn and educate themselves as well.
SG: That’s awesome! How did your USYers like these programs? How do they react to them? Do they want more?
SK: I would say that the USYers love it. 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. People felt super fulfilled and really enjoyed the program and the aspect of meeting someone from a completely different walk of life and I think it was good to step outside of those boundaries and meet new and different people…and I think everyone would definitely want to do more programs like that again, just because you feel like you’ve grown afterwards. Even if it’s only for a few hours, you still kind of feel changed and like you can go take on the world…
SG: Awesome! Do you know how the teens of the other faith liked them?…
SK: Well, specifically for the Martin Luther King Day program, the group keeps coming back year after year so I think that after many years, we’ve formed awesome relationships with them, so they truly enjoy coming back. And I think they have the same influences that we’ve had. They like talking to people from a completely different walk of life… And then, for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, since we’re working with families, the adults are super super grateful that they can have a night to relax, while the kids play with the teenagers, or they can have a nice home cooked meal, which they don’t usually get to have, which is really cool for them. So they’re super grateful… because it helps get them back on their feet.
SG: That’s really great! Do you have any visions for furthering your interfaith connection for the future?
SK: I would say maybe we could plan some specific programs through our USY chapter. Maybe have our SA/TO [vice president] specifically work on a program with a different youth group because there are a lot of youth groups around Cincinnati, but most programs that they have or we have are separate. So I think it would be pretty cool if we could a nice social event and combine it between the two.
SG: Yeah, definitely… Do you have any words of advice for chapters that want to start their own interfaith connection?
SK: I would say definitely talk with the staff at your synagogue because they’re 100% the ones that helped us put these initiatives through. And 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. And, I would say, be willing to step outside your comfort zone to interact and talk with people of different races or faiths or background because the end outcome is one of growth and happiness. And it’s really cool experience to have that not everyone gets to have, so if you have the opportunity, definitely take it.
SG: …Do you have any stories that you think would be interesting to tell or something that really impacted you…?
SK: I remember that when we were doing that planting project with the confirmation kids and our USYers…just taking a step back you could see everyone laughing…and it was cool to see that the differences were fading away and people were just working together on a simple task, and it made me wish that the whole world was like this! …
SG: Thank you so much!… Just one last question. Why do you feel that interfaith connection is important?
SK: I would say in the world today, we are often in our own littles bubbles, and so get caught up in our own lives and don’t necessarily think about the other people that are around us and that are living a few miles away from us. And taking a step back from your life stories and life struggles and thinking about other people around you and considering their point of view is super important to put things in perspective and …. it’s so much more fulfilling when you can step outside your bubble and experience the world and experience the different people around you rather than staying put all the time. So I would say that’s super important.
SG: Awesome! Thank you so much!
SK: Yeah, thank you!
Interfaith Hospitality Network- http://ihncincinnati.org/
Avondale Youth Council- https://www.avondalecommunitycouncil.com/avondale-youth-council