54th ECAJ - UCA Dialogue report
November 30, 2022
“A Club that No-one Wants to Join”
Written by Rev Lindsay Cullen
This evocative description was one given by Rabbi Meyers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh concerning places of worship which have been the subject of terrible attacks. Members of the Synagogue, site of an horrific attack in 2018, have made a point of reaching out in love and care to others in this most unwanted club, whether fellow Jewish people or those of other faith traditions, like the Islamic survivors of the terrible attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Rev Dr Stephen Robinson, the Uniting Church’s National Disaster Recovery Officer, is experienced at supporting people in the aftermath of terrible natural tragedies — bushfires, flooding, hurricanes — but the recent 54th Dialogue of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Uniting Church in Australia, had the opportunity to hear a little of Stephen’s recent Churchill Fellowship Award research focussed specifically on the responses of religious leaders to violent attacks on places of worship. During the Dialogue, entitled “Interfaith work in Crisis Situations”, Stephen shared the memorable quote by Rabbi Meyers above, as well as sharing his reflections on other statements by religious leaders responding faithfully in the face of terrible circumstances.
Before Stephen’s input, the scene was set by some reflections by Alison Bleyerveen and Rabbanit Judith Levitan on shared texts from the Psalms which are often a source of comfort in difficult times and a resource for those involved in pastoral care. Then Rabbi Yaakov Glasman offered some thought-provoking reflections on the idea that Judaism does not have the concept of ‘tragedy’ — a prescribed negative ending — instead seeing darkness as the period between two periods of light, and God’s constancy as the source of a message of hope.
Following Stephen’s input, there was a helpful discussion of the tasks of chaplaincy in times of disaster, touching on such topics as trauma-informed frameworks for pastoral care, the importance of addressing issues of gender, the encouraging possibilities for interfaith solidarity in times of disaster and the more negative possibility of complicity with acts of hatred through silence.
The Dialogue finished by discussing subjects for future engagement, with one notable suggestion being an opportunity to share Jewish and Christian responses and perspectives concerning the potential for a ‘Voice to Parliament’ for First Nations People in Australia.