For a long time, I have recognized that interfaith dialogues do not exactly represent an open forum for genuine intellectual discourse, mainly when it comes to challenging the issue of the supremacist ideology of Islam. But if there was any doubt in my mind, the event that I recently attended confirmed it.
The forum took place on December 4th at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. The featured guest speaker was reform Rabbi Klein-Katz, a resident of Israel involved in interfaith dialogue for many years. The two organizers were the Westminster Presbyterian Church's Rev. Dr. Thomas H. Yorty and reform Temple Beth Zion's Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld. There were somewhere between 20-30 people in the audience, mostly church members but also a few others from the Jewish community.
Rabbi Klein-Katz shared his personal experiences working in Israel. I found his presentation to be entertaining and captivating. He shared a few experiences teaching Judaism in a convent in Israel and discussed the challenges of dialoguing mostly with Christians. Highlighting the need to allow friendly and civilized exchanges, the rabbi told the story of Ambassador Michael Oren, who last year during his presentation at UC Irvine was interrupted by a mob of Muslim students. The rabbi praised the president of UC Irvine for intervening and finally forcing the "fundamentalist extremist" Muslims from the hall. To underscore the clichés often used in interfaith dialogues which highlight the prejudices that we all share, the rabbi talked about his grandmother who immigrated to the U.S. from Romania. She spoke in Yiddish, using disparaging language against non-Jews in phrases like "those drunken Goyim."