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Interfaith panel urges understanding, forgiveness
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Interfaith panel urges understanding, forgiveness

With moderator Rabbi Michelle Pearlman looking on, panelists at the interfaith discussion at Monmouth Reform Temple are, from left, Father John Folchetti, Rabbi Sally Priesand, Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan, and the Rev. David McKirachan.
With moderator Rabbi Michelle Pearlman looking on, panelists at the interfaith discussion at Monmouth Reform Temple are, from left, Father John Folchetti, Rabbi Sally Priesand, Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan, and the Rev. David McKirachan.

Rabbi Sally Priesand, addressing an interfaith panel discussion on confession and absolution, at Monmouth Reform Temple, opened with a question that sparked a round of laughter.

“What happens when two rabbis, a priest, a minister, and an imam come together to discuss forgiveness? The answer is that we each go over our allotted time,” said Priesand. “So I’m asking your forgiveness before we even begin.”

The Tinton Falls synagogue hosted the Feb. 13 event, which also featured Father John Folchetti, pastor of Saint Leo the Great Church in Lincroft; Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan, Islamic chaplain at Princeton University; and the Rev. David McKirachan of The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury.

The panelists compared and contrasted their respective faith’s perceptions of forgiveness and confession.

The event was moderated by the MRT’s current religious leader, Rabbi Michelle Pearlman.

More than 130 people attended the discussion, from the houses of worship represented on the panel as well as the community at large.

“Building bridges across the faith divide is in our DNA at Monmouth Reform Temple,” Pearlman told the audience. Before its building was erected, MRT held religious services at The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury. A mezuza is still posted at the church’s entry, and the two organizations gather for a joint service every Thanksgiving, Pearlman said.

“We can’t live in a community and get along with one another without knowing one another. It is important for us to claim, honor, and respect our differences,” she told NJJN after the discussion.

‘Gets rid of guilt’

Folchetti spoke about the Catholic view of confession and absolution as an “invitation to a profound interior conversion and a radical reorientation of our lives,” he told the audience. “The priest is not the conveyer of God’s mercy, but rather the servant of God’s mercy. The real healing begins when you openly state it to someone who is not going to judge you.”

Sultan quoted an excerpt from the Koran to illustrate his likening God’s mercy to the love a mother shows her child.

“Never despair of divine mercy, for indeed God forgives every wrongdoing. Indeed God is oft-forgiving, the dispenser of grace,” he quoted. “But even though God is all forgiving, when we offend one another we also have to seek each other’s forgiveness as well.”

McKirachan addressed the integral nature of grace in the Protestant faith. “Grace is critical in how we approach God and how He approaches us. We are called to strive to be like God. We will always fall short in our attempt to be virtuous, but it becomes our agenda in life to try,” he said.

He cited an excerpt from Colossians: “Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you, and above everything else, be truly loving,” he said. “Forgiveness for us gets rid of the guilt. We remember the love of God, and that keeps us going.”

Priesand cited the prayer for forgiveness recited during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as well as the daily request to God for forgiveness in the Amida prayer. “Forgiveness is on our mind each and every day,” said Priesand, the nation’s first ordained female rabbi, who served at MRT for 25 years before retiring in 2006. “Granting forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Forgiveness is not about the other person; it is about you and the quality of your life. An unforgiven hurt binds you to a time and place and holds you trapped to a past moment.”

For audience member Jeannette Ruggiano of Colts Neck, a member of the Lincroft Presbyterian Church, the discussion proved that people of different faiths are more alike than they are different, she said. “It makes no sense to me that if we are so alike in our faiths, why is there so much animosity and strife because of religion?”

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