November 17, 2008

Religious Groups Bond Over Dinner

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Yesterday evening at the Anabel Taylor Hall, the Interfaith Council at Cornell hosted the fourth annual “I Believe in … Dinner,” an event started by Lee Leviter ’08 to promote interfaith diversity. About 100 guests attended the event, representing over 20 different faiths and religions. Guests sat in assigned seats so that people of different backgrounds were next to each other.
Emily Smith ’10, the chair of ICC, formally started the event by remarking on its importance and purpose.
“I have a strong belief that dialogue between different peoples can lead to understanding; and that understanding can lead to acceptance; and that acceptance can lead to appreciation,” she said. “We can listen to one another, find similarities amongst each other, trust each other, and see that beneath our religious, ethnic and national identities, we are all from the same world — that we are all human.”
Smith then introduced the representatives of eight different religions who offered prayers before dinner. Prayers were delivered in various languages; if a prayer was in a language other than English, the representative gave an English explanation of its meaning and significance.
Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Hillel, in his introductory remarks before his prayer, said, “There is much to learn from each other tonight, but there is at least one thing that every true religious tradition holds, and that is a longing … a desire … a prayer for peace. This evening we have come together and shown that peace between people who see the world differently can be achieved when there is mutual respect and appreciation for each other.”
Each table had a bowl full of questions that the diners actively engaged in answering. One table discussed how culture shapes religions. Raihan Faroqui ’10 said, “Often cultural forces pervert religious tenets, and it’s important for the public to realize how specific social, cultural and even economic conditions can sometimes color religion in various ways.”
Another table discussed the importance of denying desires. One guest disapproved of a strict, literal denial of desires, but rather thought we should just stay true to ourselves. Another guest thought that it was not necessary to deny our desires; instead, we should change them to fit the morals and ethics of our religions.
Other questions included, “How did you come to your beliefs?”, “What about your faith gets more attention than you feel it should?” and “How do you see your faith interacting with other faiths?”.
Rachel Harris ’09, who attended the event for the first time, said, “I think it’s such a great idea to have such different faiths and religions come together, especially in these important times — on the verge of a new political regime. I think it shows hope and empowerment for the future.”
According to Joel Thompson ’09, “Events like this are important, especially in a world where misunderstandings between religions often dictate the trajectories of wars.”
“I Believe in … Dinner” began as an independent project by Leviter, but is now a major part of the ICC, a newly founded organization that seeks to promote interfaith understanding and cooperation in the Cornell community.