Have faith in sharing;Talkback

5th February 1999 at 00:00
Jonathan Wittenberg seeks a 'truly' multi-ethnic society

I have a vision of school which does not yet exist but should - a multi-faith secondary for boys and girls. Parents would know that at this school great importance would be placed on religious traditions and values.

Children of different faiths would study secular subjects together, but each day they would have time to study their own religion, history and culture. They would share the festivals of each other's faiths, as well as studying ethics together and learning the basics of each other's beliefs.

They would gain a thorough grounding in the language, liturgy, rituals, laws, teachings and history of their own faith and people. But they would also share a wider perspective, learning to appreciate the key ceremonies of other faiths. Pupils would learn that there are many paths through life to God.

I have this vision as a rabbi, as a chaplain, as a parent and as a citizen.

As rabbi of a Masorti synagogue, traditional in liturgy and practice, and open in thought, I constantly see the need for children to acquire a deep knowledge of their religion. Faith is not communicated by default. Only a thorough education can prepare the child for a full intellectual, moral and spiritual life.

However, there is also an urgent need for understanding in a world threatened by conflicts, many of them religious. There is neither justice nor a future in the claims sometimes made by religious leaders that their tradition is the sole possessor of God's truth.

We must inculcate tolerance of each other's faiths, while anchoring our children firmly in the practice and wisdom of their own.

As a chaplain, I co-ordinate the multi-faith chaplaincy team at the North London Hospice. I am often moved by the deep sense of what all human beings have in common and stirred by the profound contact frequently made across the faiths. I have often left the hospice wondering why we have to wait until people are dying before we discover how our humanity unites us.

As a parent I have been torn between the desire to send my children to a school of their own faith and the wish to give them an understanding of others, but I would most certainly send them to a multi-faith secondary.

And as a citizen, I believe such a school would provide an example of what it truly means to be a multi-ethnic society. It would take us beyond the passivity of mere "tolerance" and lead us into the solidarity of genuine understanding.

Jonathan Wittenberg is rabbi at the New North London Synagogue

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