Consolation in Creation
By Bob Bonnici
“Do you think anyone will come?” That unsettling question was on the minds of all the organizers of an annual Interfaith Service Day for Youth that was set to occur two days following the horrific slaughter of 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a self-proclaimed white supremacist. The Interfaith Service Day to be held at a local nature preserve for students in Cincinnati from three Catholic high schools and several Muslim, Jewish, and Lutheran youth groups was already months into the planning following the equally horrific slaughter of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Everyone was on edge as security was being heightened that weekend for mosques all over the country.
After much deliberation and worries about safety, the organizers decided to go ahead with the event realizing that this was a time for people to come together in religious solidarity. Sunday afternoon arrived and soon a steady stream of teenagers from differing faiths began to gather at Imago in Price Hill for a day of working together building trails and constructing a new butterfly garden for the nature center. The students arrived from various youth groups that included the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Mayerson JCC BBYO, Union for Reformed Judaism NFTY Ohio Valley, Trinity Lutheran Church of Mt. Healthy, McNicholas High School, Ursuline High School, and Mercy McAuley High School. As more and more young people arrived, a feeling of elation and support began to spread throughout the gathering. “I am so glad I came,” exclaimed one excited female participant as they headed out together each carrying a rake or shovel or pushing a wheelbarrow.
As the work for the day came to a close, everyone gathered around the picnic tables for a dinner of cheese pizza from Scarlato’s Pizzaria. Just then the Jewish students came forward with a special gift for the Muslim youth group: a beautiful poster with the Crescent and Star alongside the Star of David expressing solidarity that included signatures of those in the Jewish youth group. Everyone was awed and grateful for the opportunity to come together with our differences in mutual acceptance and respect and each participant left with a free t-shirt to commemorate the event.
The Interfaith Service Day was made possible by a generous grant from J-Serve for free t-shirts (beautifully designed by Mayerson JCC) and another generous grant from the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue for the garden supplies and pizza. The organizers included Umama Alam from the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, students Shoshi Plotze and Jake Goodman from BBYO and Becca Pollak from Mayerson JCC, Dori Singer from the Union for Reformed Judaism NFTY, Shawn Nichols from Trinity Lutheran Church of Mt. Healthy, Chris Clements of Imago, students Katherine Rust and Katie Rieth and teachers Shannon Smock and Bob Bonnici from Mercy McAuley High School.