The Third Annual Festival of Cincinnati Faiths was held online from Sunday, Aug. 23 through Sunday, Aug. 30, organized by the interfaith group EquaSion. The thirty faith communities from thirteen world religions participated, including Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Latter-day Saints, Native American, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. A number of Jewish institutions and individuals took part in the festival as either presenters or organizers. The theme of this year’s festival was “Compassion through Action: 20/20 Vision for Hope, Healing, and Justice”
The eight days of events were bookended by prayers from the religions represented. In his opening remarks that introduced the opening interfaith devotional observance, Rabbi Gary Zola, professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Cincinnati, quoted among others Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, founder of both HUC-JIR and The American Israelite, about the epidemic of yellow fever that afflicted the Mississippi river valley and its tributaries in 1978— that it had revealed “the innate nobility of men” in their responses to the outbreak. He closed his remarks with Amos 5:15: “Hate what is evil, love what is good, and establish justice in the gates.”
Among the nine faith leaders who offered prayers in their tradition during the opening devotional observance, Rabbi Karen Thomashow spoke about the multivalent symbolism of the window in the sanctuary of a synagogue from the Talmudic injunction to pray in a room with windows and from the book of Daniel: a viewer may look out a window both in hope and in responsibility for justice in the world outside the sanctuary. Rabbi Thomashow also co-moderated the discussion on “The new normal: human touch and children’s ministries;” she spoke about erring on the side of inclusivity as the Jewish communities approach the High Holidays and reopen religious schools.
Rabbinical student Becca Diamond from HUC-JIR presented a Jewish form of spiritual meditation, describing her experiences with the group Nava Tehila during her year of study in Jerusalem, with (pre-Covid 19) hundreds of people seated in circles in a room, during which the music turns into a meditative chant. Accompanying herself on the guitar, she demonstrated three songs: a niggun (repetitive and often wordless songs) Into the West; Shiviti Adonai (Psalms 16.8: I place G-d before me always); and Oseh Shalom (He who makes peace).
The session on “faithful citizenship” was sponsored by Adath Israel Congregation. Rabbi Moshe Smolkin, of Adath Israel, cited the many voices and debates in the Talmud as the exemplar of the Jewish value that many voices need to be heard in his remarks among the leaders from eight faiths about the teachings of their religion on participation in secular politics, which introduced speakers from the League of Women Voters with practical information about voting in the upcoming national election.
In a children’s art activity, “linking us together” sponsored by Dr. Myles and Penny Pensak, Lizz DuQuette first led a game of rapid drawing of animals that the participants held up to their screens to share. This was followed by making and coloring paper doll chains, which the participants again shared by holding them up.
The choir from Adath Israel Congregation participated again in the musical presentation that preceded the closing session of the festival. In that final session of the Festival of Faiths, the executive director of Equasion, Chip Harrod introduced the four co-chairs of this year’s event who each spoke briefly. Attorney Sandra Kaltman, who has served professionally or as a volunteer at many Cincinnati Jewish institutions, quoted Deuteronomy 16:20: “justice, justice shall you pursue.” Each of the co-chairs then offered a prayer in their faith tradition, and closed by reading an ecumenical prayer in unison.