The 10th Annual World Interfaith Harmony Assembly in central New York took place Feb. 3 at Temple Adath Yeshurun on Kimber Road in Syracuse. In recognition of this milestone the theme was: “Growing Together: Celebrating Ten Years of Interfaith Harmony.”
Walking into the foyer of the temple, attendees encountered a table covered with a large piece of fabric with the drawing of a tree and hundreds of little leaves to inscribe. Each person was encouraged to put his/her first name on a leaf and glue it to the tree. Plans are for the tree to be sent to New York City to be exhibited at the United Nations.
A large crowd gradually gathered in the worship center of the temple where the Syracuse Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America led by Dr. Joan Hillsman was singing prior to the opening of the program.
At 6:35, Barbara Bova, President, Women Transcending Boundaries, opened the service thanking everyone for coming and giving a brief history of the World Interfaith Harmony Week and celebrations established by the United Nations in October 2010. Having been proposed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the mission of World Interfaith Harmony Week is to encourage dialogue among all religions and faiths seeking goodwill among all through love of God and love of neighbor. The goal is to strengthen ties among religions, building understanding and the development of a culture of peace.
Beth Broadway, President/CEO of Interfaith Works of CNY, then gave her opening remarks. She thanked the leadership of Temple Adath Yeshurun for the invitation, introducing the new rabbi of the temple, Rabbi Yehoshua E. Zehavi, as well as Rabbi Andrew Pepperstone (Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas) who served as Co-Masters of Ceremony for the evening. Each gave a few opening remarks and commented about the positive symbol of a tree for this event. Rabbi Zehavi described the tree as a representation of our faiths all growing out of a common source. Rabbi Pepperstone mentioned that each religion sits in the shade of our proverbial fig tree. He also mentioned the unique size and diversity of the community of Syracuse which promotes this kind of interreligious understanding.
The Opening Blessing was then offered by Reverend Frank L. Gibson III, Director of InterFaith Initiatives at InterFaith Works of CNY.
A Candle Lighting Ceremony was then held in which each member of the diverse group of InterFaith Works Round Table of Faith Leaders lit one of a group of candles in the front of the congregation. Each was introduced with their religious affiliation as their candle was lit. The group of candles remained lit during the ensuing program.
Next began a series of eleven groups leading the gathered assembly in understanding, involvement, and/or meditation in the varied ways of each group’s own religious practice or beliefs. The printed program which had been handed out at the door included a description of the religion or group which was presenting. Some included the history and primary belief systems of the religions and/or formation and purpose of the other groups participating.
Beth Broadway suggested that the assembled audience refrain from applause following the presentations. A large gong was sounded following each group presentation to encourage a short period of reflection.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: A large group of all ages, including very young children, sang a song of praise used in a worship service. Monday is a family night for the congregants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the group that came appeared to be composed of members of numerous families.
Led by Cantors from Congregation of Beth Sholom – Chevra Shas, Temple Adath Yeshurun, and Temple Concord, a group sang a beautiful “wordless song” with percussion accompaniment. They encouraged the assembly to join them in a repetitive singing of the lively and mystical sounds and music.
Sikh Foundation of Syracuse: Dr. Mehtab Baj’wa, a member of the Round Table of Faith Leaders, gave the gathered congregation information and inspiration from readings and thoughts of the Sikh faith. He said the Sikh faith recognizes all religions, and especially emphasized some common understandings among the world religions, and that all of us have one Creator. He called for increased understanding among religions and how each faith teaches the forgiveness of God.
The Syracuse Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America: Dr. Joan Hillsman led the assembled group in robust singing of a song she had written especially to recognize this 10th Anniversary Celebration. The group also led the gathered congregation in singing a number of other songs, including one about this being a new day and the power we all have.
Syracuse Seeds of Peace: Three high-school age students did a lovely, challenging, group reading entitled “Just Because We Are Young.” It included themes of issues they face, challenges and concerns of youth today, as well as the importance of challenging ignorance and bigotry and attempting to make change.
Dancers from the Nations of the Haudenosaunee: Five young people, two males and three females, came together to demonstrate for the gathering some historic song and dances. All were dressed in traditional garb. Chris Thomas introduced the group and said they would be presenting modifications of dances and songs used in the Longhouse ceremonies. Some changes had to be made to present outside of their Longhouse. He said the women would dance first — mentioning how much women of the Nation are valued and honored. One young woman and two young girls danced lovely dances — the first being a circle dance, while Chris Thomas sang with the other male who did the percussive effects. Then Chris Thomas did a dance, saying this was a derivation of a historic Haudenosaunee War Dance. At the end, he said he hoped we enjoyed seeing their dances and songs. The assembly responded enthusiastically.
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church: Six persons using bassoon, guitar, violin, and voice led the group in a Taize Chant. It was introduced by saying that the goal of the Taize Community is to bring people of various backgrounds together to sing and worship. The music for the chant, Live in Charity (Ubi Caritas), was printed in the bulletin/program and after the first round the congregation was encouraged to chant and sing with them.
Chorus from the Bosnian Masjid in Syracuse: This began with the announcement that a new Bosnian Mosque is being built on 23 acres in East Syracuse. The Imam expressed the wish that everyone would come and visit the site and celebrate with them. Five young women of varying ages, including a young girl, then sang in the Bosnian language a song introduced to be about the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ishmael from the scriptures.
Congolese Choir from All Saints Roman Catholic Parish: A large group of Congolese singers sang together Syahamb’ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’ (We Are Marching in the Light of God), a South African Freedom Song. They sang it over a number of times, more enthusiastically each time. Since some in the audience knew the song, they joined in the singing.
Hindu Student Association, Syracuse University: Two student women presented two parts of their religion/culture. One woman began with a Namaste greeting. She then read a poem in Sanskrit and gave a basic interpretation saying it was about peace. She was dressed in classical garb from India and — with background music, demonstrated one of the classical Indian/Hindu dances. The other young woman, who is a Yoga instructor, demonstrated and explained how each of the Yoga moves she did improve the functions of various essential centers or elements of the body (Chakras) and bring improved health and a peaceful serenity.
Unity of Syracuse: A group from the church — six singers along with a keyboard accompanist and a percussion instrument — sang a song of celebration of unity among people with a refrain including the phrase “Together, Together.”
Thanks and acknowledgements were given to the program planners.
Dr. Joan Hillsman and the singers of the Syracuse Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America again led the audience in singing the song written for this 10th Anniversary of the World Interfaith Harmony week. Dr. Hillsman invited people to consider joining this Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop saying everyone is invited irrespective of religion, race, or ethnic identity.
The group then sang a song “Every Praise to Our God” to close the program.
A very positive audience response was given to this great 10th annual program in Syracuse commemorating World Interfaith Harmony Week.
A lovely reception with various kinds of baked goods, fruits, and vegetables was served in a large reception room near the sanctuary. A large percentage of those attending the program participated in the reception engaging in lively interaction. A great evening was had by all.
For more background on World Interfaith Harmony Week, see worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com
In 2011 Women Transcending Boundaries and InterFaith Works of Central New York began sponsoring an annual assembly in Central New York, which for one evening during the first week of February brings people of diverse faiths and spiritual communities under one roof. Each year since then, a colorful and diverse array of faith groups have gathered to share something distinct from their particular tradition by giving short presentations of poetry, song, stories, cultural dance, etc.
The Eagle Bulletin honored WTB co-founder Danya Wellmon for her work in organizing these ten assemblies as well as numerous other events bringing together diverse people in the central New York area.
Each assembly has been hosted by a different congregation, with as many as 600 people in attendance. Host congregations include:
2011: Bethany Baptist Church — Syracuse Eastside
2012: Temple Concord — Syracuse University Neighborhood
2013: St. John the Baptist and Holy Trinity Church — Syracuse Northside
2014: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Liverpool
2015: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church — Downtown Syracuse
2016: The Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary — Syracuse Northside
2017: University United Methodist Church — Syracuse University Neighborhood
2018: Congregation Beth Sholom – Chevra Shas — Dewitt
2019: Southern Missionary Baptist Church — Syracuse Southside
2020: Temple Adath Yeshurun – Syracuse Eastside