New York—A rabbi, an imam and a pastor walk into bar… it’s not the start of a joke, but rather the tagline for a daring new lecture series hosted by Manhattan Jewish Experience this January, which sought to do just that—bring together clergy from the three Abrahamic religions to discuss similarities, differences and ways we can better understand each other’s communities.
The timing of this series was critical. Each passing day brings news of more terrorist attacks in Israel, troubling BDS/anti-Semitic acts on college campuses, and hateful videos and rants on social media. It’s a new year, but the problems of 2015 carry over, and interfaith tensions are on the rise. And yet with the new year, there is a renewed sense of hope that things will get better.
As a place where less affiliated and unaffiliated young men and women explore Judaism, many for the first time, MJE understands firsthand that there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about religion, and in particular about Islam. And so in an attempt to educate and enlighten, which can only make for a better 2016, MJE launched the special three-part series, “Interview the Expert,” within the highly popular “Conversations Remix” weekly class taught by MJE founder and director Rabbi Mark Wildes. The series leads up to and celebrates Martin Luther King Day, keeping in spirit with Dr. King’s message of tolerance and interfaith cooperation. The final event will be held January 18 at MJE West—131 W 86th Street, 10th floor. Light dinner and wine is served at 8 p.m., class begins at 8:15 p.m.
“There needs to be greater awareness and a deeper knowledge as to the different types of Muslims and their basic philosophies,” explained Rabbi Wildes. “If people were saying or doing awful things in the name of Judaism which I believed were not true of my faith, I would speak out and try to set the record straight. Yet, we do not often hear from more moderate Islamic clerics and leaders about the growing threat of radical Islam and its links to terrorism. One of our guests, Imam Bilal, speaks at many mosques arguing for a more peaceful Islam. He addresses many young and disenfranchised youth to pull them away from the grips of ISIS and other branches of radical Islamism. His message of coexistence and religious tolerance is a very important one today and so I look forward to our discussion.”
Features on MLK Day will be guest lecturer Reverend Gregory Jackson of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack, New Jersey. When Rabbi Wildes’ brother Michael Wildes was mayor of Englewood, he introduced the reverend to Rabbi Wildes. The two have had a connection ever since. Rabbi Wildes will lead a Q&A with the reverend on civil rights in honor of Dr. King’s memory. Reverend Jackson believes in a gospel that is reflected in one’s personal life as well as one’s social and political life. With a journey that began in the segregated schools of South Carolina, he personally knows the true meaning of civil rights.