Peace, love and understanding might not be funny, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun.
That’s how Bridging Faiths, an interfaith initiative for teens sponsored by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, drew a crowd of 40 to the Muslim Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon.
“I know that as a Jew, it’s my duty to make the world a better place,” said Eli Gelernter, a 16-year-old Jewish student at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School. For Gelernter, who has attended every Bridging Faiths event so far, his motivation for doing so is clear.
“I go to an inner-city public school where there are so many different religions, and I was so ignorant about everything that was happening,” Gelernter said. “I needed to become knowledgeable.”
Bridging Faiths invites teens to come together in different houses of worship to learn about each other’s faiths, discuss religious and societal issues and work together on social action projects that benefit their communities.
“We hope to educate all different teens in all different faiths,” said Hannah Busis, a 16-year-old Allderdice student who counts herself among Bridging Faiths sizeable Jewish contingent. “A lot of them are so similar in ways you don’t even realize. There are so many similar aspects that are interesting to learn about … and that can make our generation really tolerate and accept each other.”
Apropos of the last Bridging Faiths event, which centered on how religions address death and mourning, 17-year-old Monica Srinivasa thought that Sunday’s theme, “G-d and the Big Bang,” appropriately addressed the other side of the topic.
“I was really fascinated with the creation aspect, and how science ties into that with my own religion,” said Srinivasa, a Hindu student from Shady Side Academy. “I thought it would be cool to explore it with other religions.”
Sunday’s installment of Bridging Faiths was the first in the programming series to be held in a mosque, and gave students the opportunity to learn the basic tenants of Islam as taught by their peers. After a tour of the mosque and a student-led discussion about the Five Pillars of Islam, groups of students from all the represented faiths presented creation stories from their religions.
Nabeel Haque, an 18-year-old Muslim student from West Allegheny High School, attended the program’s first event last February at Rodef Shalom Congregation. He was grateful for the Muslim Community Center’s opportunity to host the event, and to teach other teens about Islam.
“It’s very important,” Haque said between sessions of small group discussions. “[Muslims] are often viewed as radical. We have a chance to just show what we believe and how we believe it.
Mira Singhal, an 18-year-old Methodist student from Upper St. Clair, has been involved in interfaith activities for “three or four years.” She said religion helps give teens a sense of self and that programs such as Bridging Faith augment their sense of community.
“I hope that just in our community, we could start fostering a more loving relationship with each other and diminish this ignorance,” Singhal said. “Our whole purpose is to get rid of the ignorance against different religions and come together as a community. Instead of thinking we’re so different, we’re actually seeing how similar we are to each other.”
After about two hours of activities, presentations and small group discussion, the students assembled bags of hats, gloves, socks, toiletries and first aid supplies to be donated to the homeless shelter in Braddock.
(Matt Wein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)