New York, NY, October 27, 2009 Interreligious dialogue will be a focal point of the Union for Reform Judaism's 70th Biennial Convention & the Women of Reform Judaism's 47th Biennial Assembly. Both will feature speakers, workshops and entertainment that highlight the importance of fostering mutual respect and cooperation between religious communities. The two conferences will take place simultaneously in Toronto from November 4-8, 2009.
"This focus developed from the speakers we wanted to hear and the sessions in which our congregations expressed interest," said Mark Pelavin, Director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism and a member of the Biennial production team.
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, will present Thursday's keynote address. He will speak about his critical work on the Middle East peace process and the vital role of global interreligious dialogue in advancing it. In 2008, Blair founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which works with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to promote understanding between these major groups to increase understanding of the role of religion in the modern world.
Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core, will speak at a plenary session about the importance of encouraging interfaith partnerships. Dr. Patel was recently appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives. Just last week, Dr. Patel was named "One of America's Best Leaders" by US News and World Report.
His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan will address attendees via video at the Biennial's final session. The King will speak about his commitment to achieving a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict through interfaith cooperation.
Several Biennial sessions will be devoted to addressing interreligious partnerships. "The State of Interreligious Dialogue," led by Pelavin and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, will present successful, creative models for interfaith programming. "Children of Abraham: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue at a Time of Tension" will stress the importance of building relationships between the Muslim and Jewish communities and will highlight efforts taken by Reform congregations to increase interreligious dialogue.
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director of the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America, will speak at the latter session.
The Biennial's Saturday evening program will feature FaithJam, an interfaith celebration produced by leading Jewish musician Craig Taubman. FaithJam will feature Jewish, Muslim, and Christian artists and create conversation through music and dance while it celebrates Jewish traditions alongside those of other faiths.
Dr.Izzeldin Abuelaish, Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, a Palestinian and important peace activist, will give the keynote address at the WRJ opening plenary on Wednesday evening. He will speak about his work on increasing understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Or Ami award ceremony at the Thursday afternoon plenary will include honoring sisterhoods that have held interfaith dialogues with Christian and Muslim women's groups, and seven sisterhoods from around North America that worked with one another and with church groups to provide personal hygiene products for young women in an African village.
Through the Commission on Interreligious Affairs, Reform Judaism remains committed to engaging in interfaith dialogue between the Jewish community and other religious groups. In 2003, it launched Open Doors, Open Minds, which pairs synagogues and churches; Children of Abraham, launched in 2007, pairs synagogues and mosques. Through these partnerships, adults of both faiths come together to study sacred texts and participate in structured conversations about global conflicts.