By Lisa Cooper
If you have been fortunate enough to attend a Jewish national convention, or sit near loved ones during a High Holiday sermon you have most likely heard remarks about the feeling of camaraderie and oneness. Such was the atmosphere at The Festival of Faiths 2019 at Xavier’s Cintas Center on Sept. 8. The festival showcased Cincinnati’s religious diversity, while creating an environment focused on our similarities.
The 90 exhibitors and thousands of attendees said the atmosphere was lively and welcoming, which is exactly what marketing chair, Mindy Rosen, expected. “It was an important undertaking and I am proud to be involved this year.”
Opening speaker Rabbi Gary Zola encouraged the crowd to participate in the communal prayers. Although the prayers were an assortment of styles, ranging from sing-a-longs to silent prayer, the crowd remained still and focused while collectively praying.
Following the prayers, the sound rose to a thunderous level, as attendees congregated around the booths. Each exhibitor delivered a similar message, which was to educate and open the minds of all attendees in order to live harmoniously and learn from one another.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) had a presence again this year. AJC Spokeswoman Naomi Ruben said “it’s great to be here as a Jewish alliance for interfaith advocacy. We are here to open dialogue and introduce attendees to our signature events. Educating people brings us together, so this festival is the right place for AJC.”
Isha Anada, at the Buddhist Dharma Center of Cincinnati booth, was “happy to see so many people coming together in such a peaceful way.” Her teenage daughter said she begrudgingly came along to help her mother, and was “amazed with the attitudes from those who visited their booth,” further expressing “there are so many mindful events in big cities like New York, but I didn’t expect to see this today in Cincinnati.”
Beltha Fonjong, was “overwhelmed” and “amazed” as she walked into the festival for the first time. She is a gospel singer, and her children’s choir from College Hill Mass Choir was preparing to perform.
Cindy Motley, representing Just Serve, stood in front of her booth, making sure to address as many people as possible. As her organization is non-faith based, she was intent on letting people know there was a place for curious, doubtful and atheist patrons to convene and do charitable projects in their local communities, at no cost.
One of the most popular, well-attended exhibits was the turban head wrapping. All attendees were welcome to have a tutorial that resulted in walking away with a traditional turban head covering wrapped by a member of the Sikh community. Gurmej Bhupinder, from the Sikh Temple Gurdwara of Greater Cincinnati “enjoyed the festival so much last year (and) couldn’t wait to return this year.” She was “happy the festival has grown (allowing) her family to add weaponry dancing to this years itinerary.”
The festival had a separate area for elementary-aged children. Kids could be seen interacting with festival volunteers beading jewelry, painting murals, playing corn hole or the ever-popular gaga; think adaptation of dodge ball.
The kid’s area was strategically placed alongside The FC Cincinnati booth. Trevor Phillips, who organizes FCC Faith Family Night, said “it’s awesome to be here as we are taking FCC Faith Family Night in a new direction. In addition to giving out prizes, our players are sharing their life stores, and how their different faiths help them during times of struggle.” Tyler Pollock, team chaplain, said “we want kids who face any struggle to identify with our players, and help them stay positive.”