Nearly 1,000 people from many different faiths gathered at Rodef Shalom Congregation last week to secure commitments on key social action issues from local politicians.
Among the attendees at the 2013 action meeting for the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) were Jews, Christians, Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs and Unitarian Universalists — all unified by a common vision.
“Every year, our intent is to hold public officials [accountable] and get commitments on some issues that are very important to our constituencies that we represent,” said Rev. Richard Freeman, president of PIIN and Pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock.
Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger and state Reps. Ed Gainey, Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, publicly affirmed their commitments to PIIN’s requests regarding gun violence, education, the environment and transportation.
Peduto agreed to strictly enforce the Lost and Stolen Gun ordinance, while Gainey and Wheatley committed themselves to closing loopholes excluding purchasers of long guns and automatic weapons from background checks.
While several speakers garnered enthusiastic applause, Peduto, who was elected mayor just days earlier, drew the loudest hand.
Holding the microphone, he pointed to the decorated ceilings of the Rodef Shalom’s main sanctuary and stated that each member of the crowd was like an individual tile in a much larger mosaic.
The program’s theme — “many faiths, one vision” — was repeated throughout the evening.
Interspersed throughout the program were musical presentations by the PIIN Faith Jam Choir. Under the direction of Rev. David Herndon of First Unitarian Church, the interfaith musical group performed “There’s Honey in the Rock,” “Order My Steps,” and “Give Us Hope.”
Herndon selected these pieces due to their thematic content and collective appeal.
“‘There’s Honey in the Rock’ is an African-American song from South Carolina, from the islands, and it talks a lot about justice, and I thought that that would be appropriate for this occasion.”
He added, “We have all kinds of folks here, so we just try to seek a common denominator, a common expression, that works for most people and try not to exclude people by putting up something that would be too reflective of any one tradition.”
PIIN is a multiracial, interfaith coalition of nearly 50 congregations and organizations. With a mission of moving people of faith into action on critical issues, the coalition has seen an increase of recent Jewish support.
“We are spreading our wings very strongly in the Jewish community and we are very proud of that,” Freeman said.
Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai explained, “Because we believe in the value of tikun olam, of healing this broken world, we feel it’s important to ally with other progressive spiritual communities in western Pennsylvania.”
Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom added, “Rodef Shalom is proud to join with our other Jewish neighbors to be part of this coalition, raising a religious voice, raising a moral voice to address concerns to citizenry as a whole.”
For many in the Jewish community, PIIN has served a vital role. Jonathan Mayo, vice president of PIIN, and member of Temple Sinai explained the organization’s personal appeal, “PIIN for me has forced me to look beyond the Jewish community and see how you can find like-minded people in other communities. Just because you don’t share the same faith tradition at all, [PIIN] is a way to see that there are people across all of these different faiths and you can find common ground and work together, and it is incredibly energizing and powerful because of our supposed differences.”
Bisno hopes that the Jewish community’s interest in PIIN increases.
“I would encourage [the Jewish community] to appreciate that PIIN is the organ through which religious organizations in the interreligious community can get together to identify where we share common ground,” he said, “where we share a traditional basis for what we believe policy in this community ought be.”
“All of us realize that we have issues that we want to affect change with,” he said. “Coming and being a part of PIIN gets you an aggregation of people who will stand with you. One is great; 1,800 is far, far better.”
(Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)