Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Walking the walk

Interfaith awareness : Jewish professor, Presbyteri­an pastor and mosque leader organize week of events

- By Eric Devlin edevlin@mc3.edu

A couple years ago, Montgomery County Community College Communicat­ions Senior Lecturer Fred Goldstein chaperoned a group of Jewish students into the city to attend a program called “Walking the Walk.” The event was sponsored by Interfaith Philadelph­ia and was an opportunit­y for students of different faiths to come together, celebrate and learn from one another about their beliefs and cultures.

Goldstein, who has been a teacher for 53 years, and has taught at MCCC for the last 17 years, said he's invited student to interfaith events to expand their horizons. “They have been able to watch town hall meetings and programs on racial and social justice,” he said, “and hear from people of other cultures talk about what life was like for them growing up. It gives my students perspectiv­e to learn from other people than me.”

During the Interfaith Philadelph­ia event, Goldstein met a man named Haroon Rashid, who was chaperonin­g a group of Muslim students. Goldstein and Rashid chatted over breakfast and quickly discovered they had much in common. Rashid was a professor at the University of Pakistan and had come to the country a few years prior. He was also very involved at North Penn Mosque in Lansdale. “It was like an immediate friendship was built,” said Goldstein.

After the event, Goldstein, 73, a member of Old York Road Temple Beth-Am synagogue in Abington, organized a second trip for his students. This time to visit Rashid at the mosque to learn more about the Muslim faith. During the visit to North Penn Mosque, Goldstein said he saw a box that looked familiar and asked what it was called.

“Haroon said ‘we call that a Tzedakah.' I said ‘What's its purpose?' He said ‘We use it to collect money to give to the poor,'” said Goldstein, who lives in Elkins Park. “I said ‘Haroon, when we get to the synagogue, I'm going to show you a box.' He said ‘what's it called?' I said ‘Tzedakah.' He said ‘what's its purpose?' I said ‘we collect money to give to the poor.' He hugged me and said ‘I thought we were cousins.' From that minute, an instant friendship grew.”

Since then the two men have continued to work together organizing interfaith programmin­g for students and community members at their respective houses of worship. Their work has since grown to include several other area houses of

worship of different religions.

This year, Goldstein, along with Syed Afzal, President of North Penn Mosque, and the Rev. Pastor Aaron Twitchell, of Abington Presbyteri­an Church, will launch the first-ever Interfaith Cultural Awareness Week March 7-13. This series of online events will be held over Zoom each night of the week at 7 p.m. and will feature a celebratio­n of unity among several different religions.

Each program will have a different Zoom address, and those interested in attending can request access to the Zoom by contacting mlynn@oyrtbetham. org. “The belief when we first put this together,” said Goldstein, “was through knowledge comes respect. If people can understand one another and be able to interact with one another, we have a chance to make this a safer world for our kids and our grandchild­ren.

That's the hope.”

The week-long online celebratio­n kicks off with the Islamic Cultural Center of Willow Grove, on Monday, March 7. Teresa Hadjali, Operations Director, will lead a presentati­on for community members interested in learning about the Muslim faith. The next night, Tuesday, March 8, at Old York Road Temple BethAm, Rabbi Robert Leib will lead a program talking about the Jewish faith.

Then on Wednesday, March 9, Maria Ocasio of the environmen­tal group, Penn Future https://www. pennfuture.org/, will be present the program “Many faiths-One Earth” — a climate crisis discussion. “The belief is we have all these people from different faiths,” said Goldstein, “but we all want to leave the Earth safer for our children and grandchild­ren.”

Following that, on Thursday, March 10, the Rev. Grace Song, of Won Buddhist

Temple, will lead a presentati­on on the Buddhist religion. That's followed by a discussion of the Christian faith on Sunday, March 13, led by Twitchell in the afternoon.

Then the celebrator­y week concludes with the Interfaith Music Project, performing later same evening. “This is the first year of the Interfaith

Cultural Awareness Week,” said Goldstein. “Our hope is each year it's going to continue to expand.”

He credited U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean for her advising efforts to help launch the event. “What her hope is, is that this can be a model for other communitie­s,” he said. “This is something that can make a difference in people's lives.”

Dean, he said, in the past has led similar interfaith town hall meetings and thinks the Interfaith Cultural Awareness Week can be replicated across the area. “As a member of the Interfaith Council, I'm

excited to be a part of the Interfaith Multicultu­ral Awareness week,” said Rep. Dean. “It is important for people to come together to celebrate our similariti­es and difference­s — especially at a time when violence and hate speech are on the rise. This is an opportunit­y to learn from one another and grow in our faith and as a community.”

Goldstein agreed. “This can be a model,” he said. “If people would like to do this in their own community, each of us would absolutely love to help them get this started in their own area. The Congresswo­man is going to be talking about this on the floor of the House of Representa­tives. Talking about what it is that we're doing. I would be more than happy, as would the clergy of the other faiths, in helping other communitie­s to start this within their own community. Giving people a chance to get to know one another.”

 ?? PHOTO COURTESY OF FRED GOLDSTEIN. ?? From left: Dr. Haroon Rashid, Imam Muzammil, North Penn Mosque; Communicat­ion Senior Lecturer Fred Goldstein; Shamsul Huda, Imam Ashraf, North Penn Mosque; Syed Afzal, President of North Penn Mosque; Rabbi Robert Leib, Senior Rabbi, Old York Road Temple Beth Am. Goldstein is one of the organizers of the Interfaith Cultural Awareness Week online March 7-13.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FRED GOLDSTEIN. From left: Dr. Haroon Rashid, Imam Muzammil, North Penn Mosque; Communicat­ion Senior Lecturer Fred Goldstein; Shamsul Huda, Imam Ashraf, North Penn Mosque; Syed Afzal, President of North Penn Mosque; Rabbi Robert Leib, Senior Rabbi, Old York Road Temple Beth Am. Goldstein is one of the organizers of the Interfaith Cultural Awareness Week online March 7-13.

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