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Jewish and Christian community leaders convene for first Rabbi Clergy Conference

'This wasn’t an interfaith initiative that involved drinking tea; it was a chance for people to roll up their sleeves'

    Steve Innes, Ann Conway-Jones, Alana Vincent, and Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence share a panel at the Rabbi Clergy Conference (Photo: CCJ/Twitter)
    Steve Innes, Ann Conway-Jones, Alana Vincent, and Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence share a panel at the Rabbi Clergy Conference (Photo: CCJ/Twitter)

    Rabbis and clergy from across the UK have gathered to tackle issues of concern to Christians and Jews for the first time.

    The Rabbi Clergy Conference hosted by The Council of Christians and Jews saw over 60 religious leaders come together to discuss hate crime, antisemitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Rabbi David Mason, of Muswell Hill Synagogue, who held a session on Israel and Palestine, said it was the first time many of the leaders had discussed the issue.

    “We had rabbis and clergy who knew each other already, but had never talked about the conflict out of fear. The conference provided a chance to put it on the table.

    “This wasn’t an interfaith initiative that involved drinking tea; it was a chance for people to roll up their sleeves,” he said.

    The conference held in Manchester, on Monday, also provided the platform for religious leaders to discuss human rights issues and human trafficking.

    Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, CCJ director, said it was important for spiritual leaders to discuss issues that were “often the cause of very real tensions."

    “CCJ doesn’t shy away from difficult issues but rather welcomes honest and open dialogue, the bedrock of lasting partnerships and relationships,” she said.

    A discussion at the conference (Photo: CCJ)
    A discussion at the conference (Photo: CCJ)
    Rev Dr Tom Wilson, director of the interfaith charity St Philip's Centre, in Leicester, said the conference opened his eyes to issues affecting the Jewish community.

    “The Jewish community in Leicester is very small and it is not often that I get to hear about the experiences of antisemitism, so it was a learning experience for me.

    “I also had a very interesting conversation with an Orthodox Jewish woman about the role of women in religious life.

    “As a Christian I’m happy to have a woman as a leader, but talking to her allowed me to understand why someone who is Orthodox might object to it.”

    Rev Wilson said the conference allowed attendees to disagree with each other in a way that they would not normally be able to.

    “It was quite informal, so that was helpful in terms of building relationships with people across different communities.

    “I think it is important to provide religious leaders an opportunity to learn from each other, but also find a way to discuss the things they disagree on.”

    He was also encouraged to hear about how the Jewish community helped the Christian community through social action projects.

    “I heard about a community in Manchester who volunteered over Christmas giving Christians the chance to celebrate the festival,” he said.

    Speakers at the conference included Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi for Masorti Judaism, CCJ chair Bishop Michael Ipgrave, and Dr Alana Vincent, senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at Chester University.

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