“The love of God’s creatures must include all humankind, regardless of religion and race.” Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook
While living and working in Berlin, Germany, it would have never occurred to Meli Solomon to be enrolling in a Master of Jewish Liberal Studies (MJLS) Interreligious program at Hebrew College. In 2009, she made a life-style decision to move to Berlin to experience living in another culture.
A practicing Jew throughout her adult life, living in Germany made Meli hyper-aware of her Jewish Heritage. Living as a Jew in Germany is both “difficult and wonderful”. The sense is that because the community is small, being involved makes a difference as well as, because of the history of persecution, the community is fairly hidden and you have to seek it out. One becomes very aware of simple decisions and actions, like how to set up the kitchen in a new apartment?
While attending Shabbat services, Meli was thinking about a prayer she was reading. “If we do this, God will do that.” She started questioning, is this my sense of God? Is my relationship with God transactional like ‘Amazon.god’? When vexed, Meli “gets out of her own head”, and reads books and talks to people. This is how her ‘Talking with God’ project came-to-be. She wanted to talk to people from different faiths to understand their (1) sense of God and community, (2) prayer practice, and (3) how faith impacts daily life.
To date, Meli has interviewed almost 50 people from different Abrahamic faiths — Jews, Christians, and Muslims from around the world in very personal, confidential conversations about their religious journeys. She started to see the potential of writing a book.
But as she interviewed more people, she realized talking to Jews was easy because she had a good context, but when she met with Christians and Muslims, there was a real “absence of knowledge”. She needed a basis of knowledge, at least in the Abrahamic religions, to be able to have meaningful conversations.
This led Meli to Hebrew College. “Hebrew College ticked all the boxes, location (her father lives in Southern New Hampshire), flexibility to take courses remotely or on-site, and interfaith curriculum.” She met with Or Rose, the head of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership at Hebrew College and created a curriculum which is taking advantage of the BTI, Boston Theological Institute, the largest theological consortium in the world.
So far three (3) courses stand out in her formative learning: Women in the Hebrew Bible and the Koran; Voices of Conscience; and a course on the Psalms all co-taught by BTI and Hebrew College faculty.
These courses stood out because they had the common feature of looking at each tradition, major thinkers, and different ideas in a balanced way. This balance is central to Meli’s ‘Talking with God’ project. There’s also a built-in interfaith dialog including discussions about relationship to community and to theology. In addition, she is forming a network of friends and colleagues for future dialogue.
At Hebrew College, Meli also was named 1 of 16 fellows in the “State of Formation’ blog project. For someone who is planning to use her project to write a book, another ‘fantastic outcome’ is she is being mentored on developing a compelling, concise writing style.
Through Meli’s ‘Talking with God’ project and obtaining a balanced and deep understanding of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions at Hebrew College and through the BTI, she is in an increasingly strong position to share accurate information about faiths across people of different beliefs to build strong and lasting interfaith bridges.
(Meli Solomon is a Master of Jewish Liberal Studies (MJLS) program at Hebrew College and a State of Formation fellow. Working with Rabbi Or Rose and Rev. Soren Hessler of Hebrew College’s Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership, she’s taking advantage of the Boston Theological Institute to build a meaningful interfaith curriculum. Her ‘Talking with God’ project started in 2014, and she hopes it will be the source material for writing a book.)