COMMITTEE FOR INTERFAITH UNDERSTANDING
(Formerly MILWAUKEE ASSOCIATION FOR INTERFAITH RELATIONS)
The Committee for Interfaith Understanding – a program of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee – is Southeastern Wisconsin’s largest and oldest inter-religious program conducting educational programs and bringing people together from a wide array of faith traditions to build understanding and friendship.
Approximately five times per year, representatives of various religious traditions meet as a committee to dialogue, plan events and discuss issues. These include Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Sikh and other traditions.
The committee and its members also serve as resources to many congregations and organizations seeking information about various faith traditions.
In August and September of 2012, the committee -- then still known by its longtime name of MAIR (Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations) and other Interfaith Conference members responded in a variety of ways to the tragic slayings of six people and the wounding of four others by a lone gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
The Interfaith Conference issued a statement of condolence and support for the Sikh community. Faith leaders and MAIR participants attended prayer vigils and a community wake. The Interfaith Conference collected $5,558 in donations for the victims and invited the public to post prayers and expressions of concern on its website.
On September 24, 2012, MAIR organized a metro-area event titled “Know Your Neighbors: Exploring Our Diverse Faiths” that drew a diverse, overflow crowd of more than 200 people to Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church for keynote presentations on the Sikh faith and local history by Sikh leaders, followed by shorter presentations by representatives of Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist traditions. Many people remained afterward to socialize and to share ethnic snacks. (The event was hosted by Pastor Paul Armstrong of the Oak Creek church and moderated by Tonen O’Connor, MAIR chair and resident priest emerita of the Milwaukee Zen Center. Presenters included: Captain Kanwarjit S. Bajwa, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin chairman; Mr. Inderjit S. Dhillon, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin secretary; Mr. Pardeep S. Kaleka, son of the slain president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Mr. Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee president; Rabbi Moishe Steigmann of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School; Dr. Darshan Pandya of the Hindu Temp[e of Wisconsin; and Hoko Karnegis of the Milwaukee Zen Center.)
On June 10, 2012, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event titled “Interreligious Dialogue: A Friendship” that drew more than 220 people to the temple in Pewaukee for a talk by Dr. Anantanand Rambachan of Saint Olaf College and responses by panelists representing Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Dr. Rambachan structured his talk around the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhi’s closest friend and collaborator, Anglican priest Charles F. Andrews. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed. (The event was moderated by Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin. Panelists included: Rabbi Noah Chertkoff of Congregation Shalom, Fox Point; Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Islamic Society of Milwaukee religious director; Ms. Judith Longdin, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Concerns, Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Swamini Svatmavidyananda, director-preceptor of Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam, a Hindu spiritual organization in the Washington, D.C., area. )
On September 11, 2011 – the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – nine representatives of MAIR and the Interfaith Conference provided an opening invocation, individual reflections and a jointly recited prayer for the future at a Bel Canto Chorus/Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra concert entitled “United We Stand.” The concert program, which honored first responders, was held on an outdoor stage in front of a large audience in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park. It featured performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The entire program was broadcast statewide by Milwaukee Public Television.
On June 27, 2010, MAIR and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin organized a metro-area event entitled “Celebrating Our Interfaith Community” at the temple in Pewaukee. The event, which explained faith traditions and spiritual practices, was attended by more than 230 people from throughout the area. It featured a keynote talk by Swami Tyagananda, the Hindu chaplain at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Panelists and the faith traditions they spoke about included: Dr. Mohan-Singh Dhariwal, Sikhism; Mr. Kamal Shah, Jainism; Mr. Jim Beasley, Baha’i faith; Mr. Roland Rutkowski, Nichiren Buddhism; Dr. Tom Pilarzyk, Hatha Yoga; Rabbi Steve Adams, Judaism; Rev. Tonen O’Connor, Buddhist traditions; Rev. Mary Ann Neevel, Christianity. Dr. Walter Neevel, associate professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, gave a response. A dinner of Indian food prepared by temple volunteers followed.
In May 2008 we had a panel discussion at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Milwaukee's east side entitled "Religious Perspectives and Practices: Birth and Death." Panelists were from Christian (Rev. Jean Dow, Immanuel Presbyterian Church), Jewish (Rabbi Roxanne Shapiro, Congregation Shalom), Baha’i (Jerry Johnson, Baha’i Society of Milwaukee), Muslim (Ahmed Quereshi, Islamic Society of Milwaukee) and Buddhist (Mike Vater, Milwaukee Shambhala Center) traditions. This occasional series will explore the beliefs and practices of different faith traditions around major life events such as birth, marriage, and death
In 2007 we teamed up with the Peace and International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference to present a luncheon/lecture series focusing on "Violence: Faith Perspectives." We heard from speakers of four religious traditions: Isa Sadlon, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, Congregation Shalom, and Rev. Tonen O'Connor, resident priest of the Milwaukee Zen Center.
The May 2006 Lecture Luncheon series was entitled "Seeking the Common Good," which explored the concept of the common good, hopefully setting the stage for a dialogue that will help us to look at the theological and moral impulses that lead us to desire the common good. We had speakers from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.
In May 2005 our "Tuesdays in May" Luncheon/Lecture series was entitled: "Finding Our Place through Faith," which addressed how faith influences our major life choices and ethical decisions. Speakers included Unitarian Bob Chernow, Buddhist Peter Neuwald, and Roman Catholic E. Michael McCann.
In May 2004 the series was titled "Traditions and Treasures of Living Faiths," with presentations from Rabbi Shlomo Levin of the Lake Park Synagogue on Judaism: an Orthodox perspective; Dr. Trinette V. McCray speaking from the American Baptist perspective, Dr. Lakshmi Bharadwaj of Hindu Temple of Wisconsin who spoke about Hinduism, and Ahmed Quereshi of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, who spoke about Islam.