Inspiring unity at 7C Interfaith Dinner hosted by CMC
In the spirit of the Athenaeum and religious practice, CMC President Hiram Chodosh asked a question in his opening remarks at the 7C Interfaith Dinner.
“In how many venues, how often in our society, do we engage our wide range of religious traditions and experiences, in a beautiful place, around the dinner table, over broken bread and a delicious meal?” he asked.
“Not often,” he responded. “We are blessed here tonight.”
The 7C Interfaith Dinner brought together the religious communities of The Claremont Colleges on March 31 at the Athenaeum for a tradition that went on hiatus during the pandemic. Faculty, administrators, staff, and students packed the venue for the event whose purpose, as Rev. Dr. Naima Lett explained, is “to gather and have a community discussion about how we can strengthen faith and religious interactions and traditions across The Claremont Colleges.”
“This evening, your presence, your openness to one another and courage in sharing experiences so that we can all learn from them, is momentous,” Chodosh said. “Momentous because our world is simultaneously so wired and interconnected—and so contentious, so isolating, so separated, so segregated, so disconnecting.”
Planned and organized by the Chaplaincy—including Lett, Protestant chaplain; Shaila Adrabi, coordinator of Muslim life for the 7Cs; Rabbi Hannah Elkin; and Father Joe Fenton, Catholic chaplain—in collaboration with the 7C Committee on Religious Affairs (CORA), the event was hosted by Chodosh at the Athenaeum for the first time.
Chodosh called the Ath “our Temple of Wisdom: a place for open exchange and inquiry, a facility for the engagement of different viewpoints and life experiences, and a vehicle for developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and others through dialogue.”
CMC Professor of Mathematics and CORA Chair Lenny Fukshansky said the Athenaeum was an ideal venue. “This proved to be a very meaningful evening for our community with an aura of spiritual unity, renewal, and purification after the isolation time of the COVID pandemic. The program skillfully prepared by the Chaplains guided the discussion at the dinner tables through a series of thoughtful questions that led to a beautiful sharing of stories, personal reflections, emotions, and ideas. All in all, it was a very uplifting and highly successful event.”
Conversations Building Compassion and Hope
Each table had a diversity of voices across faiths and cultural backgrounds. Conversation was facilitated with four questions:
- How have your faith/beliefs given you hope, especially over the last two years?
- What do you think is the most significant value for us together as people of faith?
- How do you find inspiration in your faith tradition for environmental stewardship?
- What is a meaningful memory or story that you would like to share about your religious life and practice?
Chodosh talked about the importance of questions. “This is the power of the liberal arts: the questions that open doors to deeper understanding and shared experience. The power of curiosity at the core of learning.”
Vince Greer, assistant VP and dean of students at Pitzer, described the shared experience of the evening as full of “compassion, curiosity, and affirmation.” “It was one of the most powerful and uplifting events I have experienced this semester, particularly in the midst of COVID.”
“We learned more about one another, and ourselves,” added Xochitl Casillas, assistant dean of students for The Claremont Colleges Services and Chicano Latino Student Affairs.
Marc Massoud, Robert A. Day Distinguished Professor of Accounting and a CORA faculty leader, remarked on how the dinner encouraged personal connection across differences. “Building relationships is crucial to protecting religious freedom. It is much easier to protect our neighbors’ faith as our own when we come together, have conversation, and get to know each other on a personal level.”
In his closing remarks, Chodosh captured four themes from the evening that he hoped would help everyone “advance our shared commitments to one another.” These were: the power of questions, religion as a means of grounding us, love that allows us to cross-identify with one another, and, finally, hope.
“My favorite Chinese author, Lu Xun, who wrote in the very difficult inter-war period in China, put it this way: Hope cannot be said to exist or not exist. It is like a road on the earth. At first there is no road. But when many people walk in a single direction, a road is made,” Chodosh said. “So I am honored to be here with each of you tonight, moved to join with you, so many religious communities, all colleges, students, faculty, staff, all walking in a single direction.”
At the event’s conclusion, hope was definitely in the air.
“The evening was filled with a beautiful positive energy,” Andrabi said. “I walked home with a spring in my step and a song in my heart.”