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Interfaith Inform: January 18, 2022
Kaufman Interfaith Institute

www.interfaithunderstanding.org

Standing with Congregation Beth Israel
The Kaufman Interfaith Institute stands with the Jewish community in Colleyville, Texas and around the world in the wake of the hostage situtation at Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday. We are grateful that this horrific situation ended without injury to the hostages. Thanks to the preparation and brave actions of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, a worse outcome was avoided. 
The Religious New Service noted that the rabbi was “an interfaith champion with deep-rooted friendships not only among Christians but Muslims, too.”  Also reported was the team of local rabbis, Christian pastors, and Muslim leaders who set up a command center at a nearby church to help the FBI teams negotiate with the hostage-taker. Persons of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities must continue to work together to prevent further attacks on places of worship and schools.
Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Martin Luther King Jr. and Sidney Poitier
“I am distressed at the way the game of politics is currently being played in too many arenas. And it pains me that we have woven our social fabric from such peculiar threads: turmoil and chaos, to name a few.”
These were the words of Sidney Poitier speaking in Atlanta in August of 1967 at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They could have been spoken today, more than 50 years later. Poitier was just 40 years old and had been introduced at the occasion by his friend, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was just two years younger. King was killed only a few months later, in April 1968, while Poitier would live another nearly 55 years before dying this month at age 94. 
A few years earlier, in 1963, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. The following year marked the passing of the Civil Rights Voting Act and King received the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year also, Poitier well known through his hit movies, became the first Black to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. 
In a less well-known and but more dangerous episode that year, Poitier’s friend Harry Belafonte asked him to join in on a mission to deliver cash to the student activists working on voter registration in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer campaign. The students were running out of money and getting funds to them was critical. Belafonte had a close relationship to King, who asked him to get the money to this vital student effort. 
Belafonte and Poitier arrived at the Jackson, Mississippi airport with two medical bags containing $70,000 to deliver to the students. The car picking them up had been followed by vigilantes (probably Klan members), leading to a high-speed car chase where they were fired on. The driver finally lost the chasing car, so Poitier and Belafonte were able to complete their dangerous mission unharmed. Earlier that summer in June, three civil rights workers in the Freedom Summer campaign had been murdered. 
While King was leading the nation in recognizing the need for African American voting rights, Poitier was leading in establishing a very different image of Blacks portrayed in the media, especially in the movies. 
He said that he would never portray a character who was immoral or cruel. His characters were dignified and ethical. Nor would he portray a Black man who would be demeaned or accept racial prejudice. 
Poitier portrayed a Philadelphia detective, Virgil Tibbs, helping a small-town police chief in Mississippi solve a murder in the movie “In the Heat of the Night.” The script originally called for a rich racist white person to slap him across the face without retaliation.  Poitier said that if he played that scene he would slap the white person back, which he did -- an act that shocked many and thrilled the African Americans who saw that one of their own would not take such a treatment in the South or anywhere else.  In a later interview, he further told of his insisting the studio put in writing “that the film will be shown nowhere in the world, with me standing there taking the slap from the man.” He went on to explain, “I knew that I would have been insulting every black person in the world if I hadn’t.”
When King introduced Poitier at the 1967 Southern Christian Leadership Conference celebration dinner, he called him a “soul brother” and said, “I consider him a friend. I consider him a great friend of humanity.” In Poitier’s speech he praised King for his commitment to social justice and human dignity, saying, “I know as a fact that the courage of this man has made a better man of me.”  He concluded by noting that he had seen much in this corrupt world, and as one “who wants to change this corrupt old world, I have decided to start with myself.”
In a 2013 interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS, he told of his living with his family in the Bahamas where he was associating with some less desirable influences, so his parents sent him to Miami to live with his older brother. At age 16 he left his brother to go to New York to pursue an acting career in spite of the fact that he had only two years schooling and a heavy accent. After a failed audition, he worked as a dishwasher where a stranger changed his life. He tells of a waiter, “a Jewish guy, elderly man” who asked him what was new in the paper he was holding. Poitier had to admit that he couldn’t read very well. The waiter offered to help him. 
Then Poitier tears up as he continues, “Now let me tell you something: That man, every night, the place is closed, everyone's gone, and he sat there with me week after week after week. And he told me about punctuations. He told me where dots were and what the dots mean here between these two words, all of that stuff." 
That act of kindness and the follow-through changed Poitier’s life, and he went on to an apprentice position with an acting company that eventually led to his successful career.  The full CBS interview with Poitier can be seen by clicking:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPI5zev4Too
In the last chapter of Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks if the division in our society can be corrected.  He affirms that it can, writing, “It begins with us, each of us as individuals. The moment we turn outward and concern ourselves with the welfare of others no less than with our own, we begin to change the world in the only way we can, one act at a time, one day at a time, one life at a time.”
Morality begins with our caring for others. Let us learn from King, Poitier, and the “elderly Jewish waiter.” As Poitier said, let us start with ourselves in helping others and thereby contribute to the making of a moral, caring society. 
RELIGION AND RACISM PART 4: Christianity and Native & Indigenous People

Monday, January 24, 6:30 - 8 PM

Join the Racism Task Force in participating in the Town Hall on Religion and Racism Part 3: Christianity and Native & Indigenous People

Click here for more information and registration.
Virtual Film Screening and Discussion of Stranger/Sister

Wednesday, February 9, 6:30 - 8 PM

Join us as we watch and discuss the documentary film, Stranger/Sister
the story of two ordinary women, one Muslim and one Jewish, who dare to believe they can join hands to stop the surge of white supremacy and hate crimes.   

Click here for more information and registration.
Interfaith Book Discussion - God Is Not One  

Begining Wednesday, February 9, 2 PM - 3:30 PM 

Beginning in February the Kaufman Interfaith Institute book group will begin discussing Steven Prothero’s book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World-and Why Their Differences Matter. The sessions will be online and begin Feb. 9 meeting from 2:00 until 3:30 p.m. on alternate Wednesdays. 

For an archive of previous articles
click here.
 
For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see this week's Ethics and Religion Talk column hosted on The Rapidian.