The event was co-hosted by the UCA Synod of NSW & the ACT, Affinity Intercultural Foundation, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Australian Egyptian Forum Council and the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.
Former ABC presenter and South Sydney Uniting Church elder Julie McCrossin emceed a lively panel discussion which included many contributions from the floor by a range of people engaged in interfaith work across Sydney.
As in all serious interfaith gatherings, hospitality in the form of refreshments and snacks were offered to encourage the conversations, graciously served by congregation members at Parramatta Mission.
The panel included Josephite Sister Maria Sullivan, family lawyer and Islamic studies graduate Tamana Daqiq and Rabbi Yossi Friedman of the Maroubra Synagogue. All spoke of the lessons they had learned working across faiths and cultures.
Sister Maria grew up in Coonabarabran, but followed God’s call to Sydney in 1983 when she began teaching English to refugees from conflicts in Lebanon and Sri Lanka.
“We helped people who had difficulties with literacy, as well as with small things such as referrals to services.”
“I can name you all the wars that have happened in the world since the 1980s,” said Sr Maria, from her work alongside different nationalities at Josephite Community Aid.
“Now I’m enjoying working with Sudanese people, both Muslims and Christians.”
Sr Maria’s advice for interfaith relationships was to offer friendship and allow yourself to receive friendship in return.
“You need to be open to being changed yourself, influenced and loved through your experience,” said Sr Maria.
Tamana Daqiq discussed the recently released Islamophobia Report which found 80 per cent of women abused were wearing a head covering at the time of the incident.
Ms Daqiq said that one of the positive conclusions of the Report was that a majority of non-Muslim Australians were not hostile to Muslims.
“We live in a time when all religions are under attack,” said Ms Daqiq advocating greater engagement across the Abrahamic faiths.
“We are all committed to social cohesion and building a peaceful community together.”
Rabbi Friedman spoke of his own faith journey, the way the Holocaust had shaped the destiny of so many Jewish people and about his work as a chaplain at Mt Sinai College in Maroubra and with the Australian Defence Force.
“Ultimately our beliefs are essentially the same,” said Rabbi Friedman, “We pray together with common values for good.”
Many members of the audience were called to the microphone to share stories of interfaith initiatives they are involved in.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputy’s (NSWJBD) Rosalie Fishman spoke about the Shared Table project that aims to break down stereotypes and prejudices by bringing together women of all backgrounds.
A member of the NSW/ACT Synod Jewish Christian dialogue Stewart Mills spoke of his experience touring Israel and the Palestinian West Bank with members of the NSWJBD earlier this year.
“We learned the importance of respecting different narratives and seeking out different voices,” said Stewart.
“We also need to understand and avoid victim and villain narratives.”
NSWJBD CEO Vic Alhadeff urged all migrants to embrace Australia’s liberal democratic values and leave any positions on overseas conflicts behind when they came to Australia.
He shared a quote from the former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Johnathon, now Lord, Sacks:
“Antisemitism is never ultimately about Jews. It is about a profound human failure to accept the fact that we are diverse and must create space for diversity if we are to preserve our humanity.”
Tamana Daqiq bemoaned the current poor culture of journalism of “fake news and alternative facts… that works against what we are trying to do in interfaith work.”
“We can't give up on the media,” said Tamana, “so we need to support credible serious journalism and hold the media and ourselves to account on the truth.”
“We shouldn’t define people by their weaknesses. We need to try to see good in all people even in those that attack us.”
Executive Director of the Affinity Foundation Ahmet Polat gave the final vote of thanks and encouraged everyone to continue the work required to build a sustainable multicultural multi-faith society.
The conference closed with prayers from each of the panellists and more shared food and conversation.