On November 13, 2020, a number of John Paul II Center Leaders in Interreligious Dialogue (alumni of our Russell Berrie Fellowship program) and a former Russell Berrie Fellowship professor were present for an important discussion on race relations in America during the biannual national meeting between the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The NCS represents the liberal branches of Judaism in the United States including Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.
Jewish participants included JPII Leader Allyson Zacharoff (Cohort VI) who was representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, alongside professor Rabbi Burt Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue.
The Catholic side included Cohort VI alumna, JPII Leader Rebecca Cohen (Program and Research Specialist, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB) who was a key organizer, and the participation of Cohort I alumnus, JPII Leader Fr. Charles Cortinovis (Executive Director, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Washington and Priest Secretary for then-Cardinal-Designate and Dialogue Co-Chair Wilton Gregory).
The critical and timely discussion was centered around what could be learned from the success of ongoing dialogue between Jews and Catholics, especially in the years since the publication of Nostra Aetate, to inform how as a group they could respond together to the ongoing racial injustices occurring in their country.
Allyson Zacharoff left the conversation that day with this takeaway, “A lot of us have to do internal work before we make more meaningful changes in terms of racial justice.”
A large part of that individual internal work is taking time to listen to the experiences of those experiencing racism. Allyson noted that Listening Sessions were an interesting idea suggested by guest speaker Most Rev Shelton J. Fabre, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana.
This is difficult and important work, and we are very proud of our JPII Leaders in Interreligious Dialogue, for following the call to work for justice in their communities.