As co-presidents of Durham University Jewish Society, we have become increasingly aware that our position has provided us with an opportunity to actively broach prevalent religious issues, rather than remaining introverted – concerned only with the needs of our members.
Recognising this, we began to reflect on how best we could have an impact on a wider audience, regardless of faith. Interfaith discourse naturally holds a broader appeal, by encompassing issues common to more than one religion.
Through a previous lack of Christian-Jewish Interfaith initiatives in Durham, the event held last Wednesday created a level of intrigue. This was, of course, heightened by the high acclaim, ingenuity and respect for the two religious leaders that shared a platform: the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
After the recent banning of kosher and halal slaughter in Denmark, it is once more apparent that a climate of religious intolerance can have a similar impact on different faiths.
Our desire to retain practices, traditions and customs points to an inherent likeness. Religious diversity need not be a point of conflict, but rather provide a means to unite in facing common issues.
In his address, the Archbishop of York reminded us that although we have different religious identities, this is ultimately insignificant when faced with a growing religious opposition.
As the Chief Rabbi further emphasised: "We are all created in the image of God." It is the acknowledgement of this fundamental fact that can help to bridge together different communities.
This year, thanks to the efforts of Ben Kasstan who organizes the Muslim-Jewish forum at Durham, we have been able to witness the level of interest that students of faith truly have for initiatives that deal with these issues. Dialogue that allows us to understand and appreciate people from other religions is a crucial step in ensuring that religious uniformity is not a prerequisite for harmony.
But this event is only the beginning. It marked the launch of a new CCJ initiative that promoted Christian and Jewish presidents from universities across the country to the role of a Council of Christian and Jews Student Presidents (CCJSP).
University is the ideal environment for such activity to take place; students are able to fully embrace their individuality, and truly establish their own ideas and identity.
If understanding of the significance of interfaith can reach out to students at this crucial time in our lives, then growing religious intolerance can be abated. The Archbishop has often spoken about how young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, but are the leaders of today, and such a maxim reaffirms the importance of this CCJSP project.