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My journey as an interfaith leader

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Interfaith Leadership Institute
DePaul University Student Center
June 21. 2012


My journey as an interfaith leader photo

Not long ago, I was sitting right where you are…no, I am not a child prodigy that graduated from college at age 12, I just look like it!  I was graduating from college, at age 22, where religion had been a MAJOR part of my experience. 

I was a founding member of the Heretics Club, co-president of our Jewish Union, active in IFYC and even studied Comparative Religion.  There was no doubt in my mind that religion would play some part in my life, but what that was…I had NO idea.  I contemplated Rabbinical School, as my family often called me Rav Fields.  I looked into a degree in Jewish Communal Development.  I applied for pretty much EVERY job posted on JewishJobs.com and all the ones on Idealist related to religion.  All of this was getting me nowhere except nervous and confused!  So, I decided to bolt!  Well, not really bolt, but explore for a little while. 

I decided to accept a Fulbright and move to Thailand.  My role was to provide assistance to English teachers and help teach the language while serving as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.  Shortly after my arrival at Sansaiwittayakom, I realized that not only was I the "American" but the "Hew."  And to many of those that I encountered, I was the only Hew and one of the only Americans they had ever met.  I took a step back, recognizing that this was an amazing opportunity to figure out what being American and being a Jew meant to me.  If I was an ambassador, I had to know what I was an ambassador for!  I wasn't just Jewish because I celebrate different holidays than Thais. 

I took my time there to study, explore and engage.  My students did projects on the world religions.  I learned from my students that Judaism was key to my life.  It meant community.  Tradition.  Tikkun olam.  What I began to see was that being away from community really made me want it more.

And then…I came back to the U.S.  I jumped right in to a community (AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps) and no longer had to think about what religion meant to me…it was just there, part of my life, day in and day out.  I was a Jewish leader, community advocate, I had no choice, and I loved it.  But then the year ended.  It was now my turn to actually sit down and decide where I wanted to go in my life and how I wanted religion to be a part of it. 

There was no question in my mind that I wanted to work towards tikkum olam, repairing the world.  I wanted to build community.  And I really wanted to surround myself with others who had the same values as me.  I will not say that I know where I am going, but I will say that I am happy and content with where I am today.  It was not easy, but l believe I have found where I belong.  I currently work in the Young Leadership Division at the Jewish United Fund where I am able to build Jewish community as well as support the community at large.  I plan events, network and fundraise.

Now you might be asking yourself…how is this interfaith?  And my answer is that it cannot be more "interfaith."  Fifty percent of the Jewish community in Chicago enters an interfaith marriage.  That means that a large number of the people whom I work with are not or were not originally Jewish, yet we ALL want to repair the world.  We all want to make a difference.  We are all working together to provide critical resources that bring food, refuge, health care and more to 300,000 Chicagoans of ALL faiths and 2 million around the world.  We are working together to support 70 agencies that care for children, immigrants, low income, the elderly and disabled.  JUF is the central giving address for the Jewish community in Chicago and one of the largest social welfare agencies in Illinois, which means that thousands every year are counting on us to support the community, Jews and non-Jews alike.  What could be MORE interfaith than that?

Who knows where I will be five years down the line?  And if you do, please let me know!  But I do know, that unexpectedly, interfaith work has become a part of who I am each and every day, and I am proud of it.   

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