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Great thing happen when we work together

by Rabbi Jonathan Kupetz

Having served Temple Beth Israel for just over 13 years, I can say from personal experience that our Claremont and surrounding community is a model for interfaith cooperation.

Through a variety of events and engagements, many of which have become part of our fixed yearly calendar, members of the TBI community have been connecting across lines of faith to create greater understanding of and respect for one another. 

For example, on October 15, the 9th annual Interfaith Walk for Peace and Unity, sponsored by the Inland Valley Interfaith Working Group took place, bringing approximately 250 Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other faith communities together. We first met at the Claremont School of Theology and then ventured along the Foothill Boulevard corridor, making stops at Temple Beth Israel and the Islamic Center of Claremont, before concluding at the City of Knowledge Islamic School, where the participants shared a delicious communal meal. 

All along the way, new friendships were formed, old bonds renewed and everyone worked together to dissolve the barriers and misperceptions that seem to so easily divide us.

It is also the ongoing work of our interfaith community to forge partnerships that enable us to take on important joint projects. One example of this is the way we have banded together to support recent refugees in our community, including many from Syria, and to help them transition to independence.

Temple Beth Israel is part of Refugee Resettlement Team #2 (there is also a team #1), an active group that mirrors the diversity of our community, including Presbyterians, Jews, Mormons, Catholics, Unitarians, Church of Christ members, Muslims, Quakers (Friends), those of no particular faith and more. The team has provided support through rent assistance, English classes, assisting with government services, schools and medical appointments.

In addition to the Refugee Resettlement Teams, students at the Claremont Colleges have created the Refugee Advocacy Network to assist refugees in our area. This past September there was an appreciation party for refugees with the volunteers who support their resettlement in our area, featuring a meal prepared by a refugee family from Syria. All told, there were more than 50 refugees in attendance along with many more volunteers.

Imagine what it is like to arrive in a new country after having been forced by violence to flee the only home you have ever known. Refugees need to learn a new language, navigate the social service system, register for school, learn American cultural norms, find housing and apply for jobs. It can be quite overwhelming, but with the commitment of volunteers, we are able to ease this very difficult transition and provide a welcoming embrace to those new to our country.

The refugee teams are doing important work and are also a wonderful example of the power of interfaith collaboration and community engagement. However, there is always a need for more support for these efforts in both human power and financial support.

If you are interested in helping with this effort, contact me and I will help to connect you. You can also learn more by visiting refugeeteam2.org, which includes an easy way to support their efforts. When we work together, our community can do great things.