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Same Difference Interfaith Alliance

at The West Side Center for Community Life, Inc.

263 West 86th Street, New York, NY 10024     212.362.3179

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Interfaith Arts Committee

Interview Process

From Tolerance to Engagement



In response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, artist members of The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA) created "September 11: In Our Own Words," a creative service for healing that used interviews from their church members, newly composed music, spirituals, musical theater, hymns, folk music and modern dance. The work was presented at SPSA and at an interfaith service with B'nai Jeshurun. It also was performed at the New York Annual (Methodist) Conference at Hofstra University and at Nantucket United Methodist Church in the summer of 2002 and was very well-received.

Despite the enthusiastic response, the project's director felt that lingering questions about September 11 remained to be explored:  How could this group of people hate us so much as to attack? How can our world of differing faiths be so disjunctive that we don't understand where and how the other lives and experiences life? Can we really be that far apart? How can we learn more about each others' faiths and backgrounds? How can we meet and find a wider path on which to walk together?

The Interfaith Arts Committee

Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (BJ) and The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA) joined together with member artists of the American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA), The Dialogue Project, and Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT) to develop a creative program to focus on interfaith relations before and after September 11, 2001.


The Interview Process

The committee developed 22 interview questions and established contact with individuals who agreed to be interviewed.

     The goal for the interview process was to find the true multi-faith voices of New York City.

     The interfaith interviewing team included 18 individuals who met one-on-one with more than 100 New Yorkers.

 Interfaith organizations and friends reached out to a wide variety of New Yorkers in all five boroughs.

     The demographic mix of interviewees fairly represented gender, race and a range of religious practices within each major monotheistic faith in New York City:

Sunni, Sufi and Shii Muslims, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, and Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, and Pentecostal Christians (as well as agnostics, atheists and interfaith couples) were interviewed. These included New Yorkers with histories from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Austria, Puerto Rico, Argentina and more.

     The one-on-one interview experience allowed barriers to break down, and participants established many lasting relationships.

The interviews were transcribed and the writers developed the material into an 80-minute theater piece, titled "SAME DIFFERENCE: NYC Faith Stories in Words, Music and Dance." With theater as the medium of expression, the audience heard often harsh truths in the words of community members spoken by a third person (the actor) in a safe environment. This distancing mechanism actually allowed the audience to get closer to the meat of its dissonance and conflicts more readily than would normally be possible. SAME DIFFERENCE played in January 2003 to sold-out audiences and prompted an overwhelmingly positive response from educators, clergy, media groups and interfaith activists who want to bring the work and its methodology to their communities.


Successful Move from Tolerance to Engagement

Although SPSA and BJ have a long association (the Methodist congregation opened its doors and sanctuary to the Jewish congregants after the synagogue's roof caved in a decade ago) SAME DIFFERENCE has deepened and expanded this relationship. The American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA) has now joined these two congregations to establish an ongoing interfaith committee. This committee plans joint educational and social events throughout the year. One of these is the Cordoba Bread Project, through which group members come together to break bread, share cultures, and celebrate the tradition of peace and coexistence that existed in medieval Cordoba, Spain. ASMA holds educational and fellowship outreach events at SPSA. And the participants have come together in BJ's sukkah during the autumn festival of Sukkot, for an interfaith Passover seder in the spring, and at SPSA's Christmas Eve service. Additionally, clerics from the three congregations attend each others' services to share their traditions and worship experiences. This has enabled individuals from the three congregations to get to know one another on personal basis, thus intensifying their understanding of each others' faiths. To members of SPSA, BJ, and ASMA, the title SAME DIFFERENCE has great resonance, for although each religion is different in its approach to culture and faith, each meets the same basic needs.





©2003 Same Difference Alliance. All rights reserved.

Created: 6/26/03       Revised: 08/01/2003