This summer, I had a fellowship at the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue. I helped to create the Cincy Multifaith Calendar, an online resource designed to help students talk about their faith traditions and learn about the traditions and identities of their classmates. We gathered representatives of the major faiths in the Cincinnati area to write calendar entries for the holidays in each faith tradition. It seemed like a straightforward process: gather all of these different holidays and put them on one calendar.
In our first meeting, we quickly learned about areas of tension involving the calendar. The Christian groups had an easy time placing their holidays; after all, Christmas is on the same day every year. But other faith groups, like the Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, as well as Jews, had to ensure they had the correct dates for their holidays in the year 2020 because the dates of our holidays shift around on the secular calendar each year. Harder still was the task of our native American representative, who said that his calendar went by the seasons and could not easily be translated into the Gregorian calendar dates.
The conversation went from figuring out the dates of the holidays to understanding each tradition’s calendar and way of measuring time. I quickly found a difficulty particular to Judaism: the time the day starts. Genesis 1:5 says, “God called the light day and the darkness, night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.” Our ancient scribes understood evening to come before morning, and that this way of calculating time was part of the order created by God. Thus our day starts at sunset rather than midnight, and holidays start in the evening. The design company that created the website for the multifaith calendar was unaware of this, so they had all the Jewish holidays starting a day early. All of these particularities of the calendar brought out the deeper dynamics of living in a multifaith society. The calendar is a source of cultural and religious identity. The calendar you live under defines and expresses who you are.
Dr. Buchanan, executive director of the Bruggeman Center, always says that process is more important than product. I learned to appreciate this insight while working on the Cincy Multifaith Calendar. Our goal certainly was to complete the calendar, but more important than that was what we learned through the process of creating it. One of the faith representatives, a Muslim woman, shared the importance of a calendar to educate children because of the struggles she faced as the only Muslim child in her classroom in school. Those of other minority faiths shared similar experiences. One man, from the Zoroastrian faith, shared a story about how his son was asked to educate his peers on his religious background, and he stressed the importance of giving children tools they can use to speak about their own faiths. We had disagreements, like the inclusion of Thanksgiving, which some saw as a way that they could participate in a universal American culture, while we also acknowledged that it was a difficult holiday for Native Americans, who understand Thanksgiving as a celebration of colonialism. Throughout the process, we learned about one another’s faiths but, even more so, about our own faiths and beliefs. The process of coming together to create a common project helped each of us share our faith backgrounds, as well as learn about ourselves.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the multifaith calendar project was the simple fact that people of many different faiths could come together in a room and work together toward a common goal. Multiple times, it was pointed out how extraordinary the diversity in the room was. In a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and political polarization separates us, it made me feel optimistic to know that there are people who appreciate difference and want to celebrate it and educate one another about it. My fellowship opened my eyes to the possibilities of dialogue, and how people of different faith backgrounds can come together to create a more connected, understanding community.
Becca Diamond is a third-year rabbinical student from New Jersey.