After Canada’s July 1 bash for our 150th birthday, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) challenged every mosque, church, temple, synagogue and place of worship to commit to 150 acts of public service this year. Convivium publisher Peter Stockland asked CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel for more details.
By Peter Stockland, Senior Writer with Cardus, and publisher of Convivium.
Convivium: What is the Canadian Faith Community Pledge Challenge? What does CIJA hope Canadians of faith will do?
Shimon Koffler Fogel: We use the term challenge in the most constructive way really, encouraging faith communities both individually and collectively to reflect on the role they play in Canadian society and how they can serve as agents for positive change and growth. It’s meant to underscore the legitimate and full role that they should be playing, and the whole public conversation about what we are as a society. How we can improve ourselves? How we can share certain values and principles that are inherent to what we believe as individuals and groups of faith to improve the lives beyond our own parochial communities to impact on those of all Canadians? I think that over the last few decades, and certainly increasingly over the last 10 or so years, there had been questions raised about the propriety of having a religious perspective or a religious voice directly engaged in that discussion, regardless of what the particulars are on public policy. I think one of the ways in which we can demonstrate the value we bring to that discussion is to leverage our perspective on what our obligations are as individuals and as communities in answering the question, “How do we make things better?”
Convivium: Do you have “starter ideas” that faith groups might consider as projects?
Shimon Koffler Fogel: There’s no shortage of needs that are expressed by one segment of Canadian society or another, but there are also generic things. There’s an acute need for blood donations, for example. It’s just an easy thing for an individual to do, and it’s such a user-friendly way for a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple to organize. Canadian Blood Services has a program where a group can join together in order to set a particular target of blood donations, and then it just becomes a self- perpetuating kind of exercise. How can that be anything but good when we reflect on those blessings that we have and consider those who don’t, without judging why they don’t or what their circumstances are?
The idea is about saying, “We are going to make a statement about what it means to be Canadian by sharing our loaf of bread, by visiting those who are isolated and shut in, by identifying those who are underprivileged, providing a tutorial program from kids after school, or for those that can’t be involved in organized sports for one reason or another. We want to provide a platform for them to be able to do something healthy and constructive, looking at First Nations and recognizing there are communities living in the most desperate of circumstances. What can we do to partner with them?”
It has nothing to do with promoting or proselytizing on a religious basis. It’s about saying that I, as a person of faith am making a statement about what that faith means by translating it into practice. There’s something for me to share that is of inherent good, that doesn’t compromise anybody’s independence or way of thinking.
Read the full interview with CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel at Convivium.