Round-table discussion at Synagogue attracts interest and promotes interfaith dialogue

DSC_4788Chairman of Birmingham’s Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and NCA, Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh was invited to the New North London Synagogue in Finchley to partake in a roundtable interfaith discussion. The event, which was about what we are doing here on earth, with four speakers renowned for their faith-inspired work, attracted enormous interest within the local Jewish community.

On Sunday 8th September 2013, the New North London Synagogue in Finchley hosted an evening of interfaith reflections shared by four leading figures from the Jewish, Christian and Sikh faith traditions.  Invited to participate alongside Bhai Sahib were: Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand, Director of JHub, supporting charities in the areas of social action and innovation, Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkins, 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and Terry Waite, former special envoy for the Church of England whose work in negotiating the release of hostages led to his own captivity in Beirut for over four years.

The event organised and led by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenburg, attracted a large audience of about 150-200 people, largely from the synagogue community.  Falling between the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement and finishing with a Penitential Service, the discussion sought to draw out reflections from the panel on the ‘biggest and deepest questions’ of human existence and their journey of faith.  The speakers moved from sharing their experiences of childhood and considering the formative, grassroots factors which had inspired their life of faith, to discussing the transformative power and practical application of faith-based values.

Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkins recounted her inner calling to serve as a youngster in her early teens and as well as some of the challenges she has confronted as a female faith leader.  Born in Jamaica, she was raised without her mother but within a family setting.  Recalling these times she observed that her faith was not ‘learned’ as such through theological training, but inspired and absorbed through seeing it lived out through people around her as she grew up, for example, through their trust that ‘God would provide’ in times when food and money were scarce.

Bhai Sahib shared with the audience the loss of his own mother when he was a very young child, describing how this set him on a journey of inner questioning about the meaning and purpose of life, leading him to explore and practice the Sikh faith he was born into.  He described the link between the concepts of faith, trust and hope and stressed the Sikh teaching that compassion is the essential bedrock of faith.  Remarking that forgiveness is the action which emanates from compassion, he observed, to the positive murmurs of the audience, that only mothers seem to share with God the ability to absolutely forgive and that it is a phenomenon we should all learn from.  He explained that the Sikh word for faith – dharam – had the connotation of love and service, with a sense of responsibility to both God and all elements of creation, where our interconnectedness and interdependence is deeply valued and none is a stranger or foe.

Terry Waite reflected on the deep learning arising from his first-hand experiences, both in captivity itself and in his act of revisiting and engaging with his DSC_4783captors to secure the safety and freedom of others.  He described how the quiet application of faith-inspired values made the ultimate difference in drawing out another’s humanity.  He presented faith as a way of being that was internalised through the values by which one thinks and acts, reiterating the importance of a ‘living’ faith which is found beyond the ritual and dogma of religion.  The other speakers strongly resonated with this.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand reflected on the creative, personal and social dimensions of faith practice and commitment.  She described how music and the natural world, beyond conventional prayer or places of worship, were important elements for her personally of faith practice.  She suggested the value of social projects that sets themselves in the far wider context of being ‘God-centred’ rather than centred in the individual alone.

Thanking Rabbi Jonathan Wittenburg for the kind invitation to participate in the event and praising the great work that was being undertaken by the Jewish community. Bhai Sahib said, “The solidarity of faith is crucial. We must all work together to solve the problems of the world together. We cannot afford to keep creating silos; these are not the answer. Faith communities are the answer to many of the world’s problems but we need unity. By promoting interfaith working and having more events like this we can break down preconceptions and misguided barriers.”

He went on, “My tradition informs me, Sach kaho sun leho sabai, jin prem kiyo tin hi prabh payo… Hear ye all this truth; only those exercising love towards all, will meet God. Furthermore, we must recognise all humanity as one – there should be no distinction between friend or foe”.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenburg presented Bhai Sahib with two books and a CD before they gave each other a hug as a token of warm mutual affection.

To view photos from the event, please visit http://alturl.com/cpjnq

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. More information on the New North London Synagogue (NNLS) and the thriving Masorti community in North-West London in Finchley please see http://www.nnls-masorti.org.uk

2. Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) is a multi-faceted, faith based organisation practicing and propagating the Sikh Dharam (faith) in the name of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539). It has been involved in selfless intra-faith work in Kenya and India informally since 1950, and formally in the UK since 1978 as a registered Charity through five centres for excellence in the inner-city area of Handsworth, Birmingham, where its Headquarters are based. GNNSJ also has sister organisations in Leeds and London (UK) and branches in Kericho (Kenya) and Amritsar (India). Significant achievements have been made by GNNSJ in the conservation and restoration of historical Sikh shrines.

Chaired by Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh it aims to serve and uplift society through the practice of core values – nishkamta, or the spirit of selflessness, being one of them. Inspired by Dharam (religion) GNNSJ has generated a flourishing culture of volunteering, which has contributed immensely to transforming visionary projects into reality.

For his services to religious faith propagation, community service, education and research, Bhai Sahib has been awarded two Honorary Doctorates from Birmingham’s Universities. He is passionate about values-based education and is the Patron of the Nishkam Education Trust which has set-up Nishkam Nursery (2009), Nishkam Primary Free School (2011), Nishkam Secondary School with 6th Form (2012) and Nishkam School West London (2013).

For more information, visit http://www.nishkammediacentre.com

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