Shared Sadness, Renewed Hope


Interfaith ceremony examines sexual violence through spiritual lens

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

The Yizkor is a Jewish prayer of remembrance and a promise to perform charitable acts in honor of departed loved ones—acts that make reparations for sins and renew and strengthen connections between the living and the dead, and between the faithful and God. In that sense, it also is an act of community-healing, recited during memorial services and as part of several religious observances, including the autumnal Yom Kippur.

Jewish Dickinsonians gather on campus each year to observe that solemn holiday in the age-old ways, and this year is no exception—but there is a twist. In place of the customary Yizkor prayer, students, faculty and community members will present a public interfaith event that focuses on an area of different spiritual need.

That event is Standing Against Sexual Assault: A Solemn Interfaith Service of Memory and Healing (Saturday, Oct. 4, Stern Center Great Room, 3 p.m.). Held on the Jewish Day of Atonement—and just a week after the White House weighed in on the issue of sexual violence—the service brings interfaith poems and readings into the framework of the Yizkor ceremony, casting a national-conversation issue into unique and spiritual light.

Like last spring’s Take Back the Night rally, the event aims to create a space where Dickinsonians can unite in the fight against sexual violence and misconduct, both on campus and nationally (related campus resources include the Yes, Please! peer group, the Healthy Masculinity program and the Green Dot bystander-intervention initiative, rolled out this fall). But this time participants are invited to examine the issue through a Jewish lens: While Jews around the world reflect on their lives and atone for sins, participants in this event will be invited to express the grief and pain created by sexual violence on college campuses and to call for healing for those affected, and for their communities.

“What we’re saying is that we need to take a certain amount of responsibility for and [provide] support to those who are suffering, and pledge to find ways to repair the fabric of our community that is frayed [by wrongdoing],” says Ted Merwin, director of the Asbell Center, noting that the interfaith approach is a hallmark of the center’s programming. “It’s all about bringing people together to share that sense of sadness—and hopefulness that we will find ways to make our community as safe as it can be.” 

The service is organized by Ariana Katz, a rabbinical student from Philadelphia, in conjunction with Hillel students and the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life. Co-sponsored by the Office of Religious Life, the Women’s Center and the Office of the Dean of Students, with support from the Wellness Center and the local Y.W.C.A., it is one of a growing number of interfaith events to take place on campus this year, engaging campus offices and centers and student and community groups in shared interests, causes and experiences.

"All leaders of religious-life groups have been updating each other on events and supporting each other the best we can, and this service advances those efforts by bringing together people from different faith backgrounds in a stand against sexual violence," says Andrew DiNardo '16, an international business & management major and Montgomery Service leader who plans to attend the event. "It's important to me [to show support in the cause], and I believe it's a unifying point for people of many faiths."

A member of Dickinson's Christian Fellowship leadership team, DiNardo adds that he looks forward to learning about a different religious tradition through the event. "Interfaith [collaboration] and dialogue are important, because without a complete understanding of any issue, we often fall into generalizations and close-mindedness," he explains. "I believe it's crucial to take the time to understand others' points of view."

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Published October 2, 2014