Connecting our faith

“My faith tells me that no matter what terrible things are happening in the world, I know that it’s all part of a greater plan and that better days will soon come,” said Marc Szechter ‘22, who participated in Have a Little Faith on Jan. 31.

Have a Little Faith was a dinner and interfaith discussion that was open to the entire campus regardless of gender identity, sexuality, religion or faith.

This was the first interfaith event, in years, of this type to happen at Muhlenberg. Last semester, Chloe Goldstein, Hillel Programs and Engagement associate, Pastor Kristen Glass-Perez, College Chaplain, and several student leaders hosted a larger interfaith program, which was centered around spirituality; the idea for last week’s interfaith discussion was inspired by that event.

The purpose of the event was to begin to forge some connections of faith.

“Personally, my traditions and spirituality as a conservative Jew are really important,” said student leader and Hillel Interfaith Chair Liora Finkel ‘22.

Finkel was raised as an observant Jew, and she reframed the traditions she grew up with around the lines of “what my parents have taught me” to move along the lines of “this is how I can be mindful of both my day-to-day life and to time passing.” It is more difficult for her to explain why these traditions are important to her as a whole, but she does know that her life would be different if her Judaism weren’t so important to her.

“We live in an extremely secular world, with crazy social lives, schoolwork and technology. Thinking from a Jewish perspective it is really hard to be a ritually observant college student, and/ or a student of faith. However, especially in my experience, I make it work. So in short, faith and religion can integrate well,” said Finkel.

Participant Jenna Levin ‘21 said that her favorite topic was learning about people’s first memorable religious experience. She finds it interesting to see what people remember from their religious childhood experiences.

“From this experience I learned that there are so many ways to be involved in religious life in different communities. Faith/religion is important to me because I’ve grown up my whole life being involved with Jewish communities such as day school, camp, etc,” said Levin.

For some people, religion is something that influences their everyday lives. As a Shabbat-observant Jew, Szechter has to plan his weekends around the laws of Shabbat.  

“I find Shabbat on campus to be beautiful. I look forward each week to going to Hillel on Friday nights and Chabad on Saturday afternoons.  Additionally, I have found a home locally Congregation Sons of Israel, where I and many other Muhlenberg students go on Saturday mornings,” said Szechter.

He said that the members of the congregation are excited by the presence of Muhlenberg students, and they frequently invite them to their homes for Shabbat meals.

“Given all of these special opportunities that the Muhlenberg and the greater Allentown Jewish communities offer, I never feel bad about missing whatever parties are happening on Friday nights on campus,” said Szechter.

There are plans to have monthly dinner interfaith discussions, like this one, throughout the semester. Including a plan for an interfaith retreat, as well as other programs planned throughout the spring.

“I think that our religions are too focused on ritual and law rather than faith, and we need to have more discussions about the nature of the Divine,” said Szechter.

Muhlenberg also hosts other events that center around interfaith. Muhlenberg’s Institute for Jewish-Christian understanding hosts events such as the semesterly Youth and Prejudice Conference for students from local schools, coordinated by Marcie Lightwood, which promotes understanding of people who may come from a different background than you. This year’s conference is on April 9 and April 10 and students who are Holocaust survivors can volunteer to share their family’s story.

Interfaith discussions give students the opportunity to connect with other people from different backgrounds.

“I learned that Jews and Christians have similar questions about their faith, and we can work together to inspire each other to find faith,” said Szechter.

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