National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations - Essay by Dr. Eugene Fisher
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 09:06:00 -0400

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by Eugene J. Fisher In late November of 1973, some seventy-five people came together at a retreat center outside Dayton, Ohio, for what the organizers billed as the first national workshop on Catholic-Jewish relations. Addressing the forum were such uminaries of the dialogue as Dr. Eva Fleischner, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and Rev. Edward Flannery. Subsequent workshops (Memphis 1975; Detroit 1977; Los Angeles 1978; Dallas 1980; Milwaukee 1981; Boston 1983; St. Louis 1984; Baltimore 1986; Minneapolis 1987; Charleston 1989; Chicago 1990; Pittsburgh 1992; and Tulsa 1994) have enlarged the sponsorship to include Protestant and Orthodox Christians and major Jewish agencies such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as both the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism. The national workshops, which were the brainchild of a local women's "living room" dialogue group, have over the years both reflected the cutting edge of the relationship and moved forward its agenda. Many, perhaps most, of the leading figures of the Jewish-Christian dialogue, nationally and internationally, have addressed the Workshop in its plenary or seminar sessions. Its attendance has grown to over a thousand participants. One of the reasons for the success of the Workshops has been their ability to attract and involve not only professionals in the field but advanced amateurs and beginners from the local community. This, in turn, may be because the local host community participates equally with the national sponsoring and cooperating agencies in developing the program and list of speakers. As chair of the national planning committee for the past fifteen years, I attest that this mixture of differing perspectives is guaranteed to be both lively and creative! It also ensures that the different needs of different groups will be addressed. Not everything important to the Workshop, of course, comes from the plenary and seminar platforms. It could be argued that even more important are the exchanges of information in the corridors and at meals among people from all across the country and abroad concerning what works and what doesn't; what's hot and what's not in the kaleidoscope of issues that frames the contemporary dialogue between our two ancient peoples. Likewise, there are interest groups, such as denominational leaders, and seminarians and educators, who track through the experience together and become intensely involved on their own levels. The Fifteenth National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations will be held at the Sheraton Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, on October 27-30, 1996. Its theme is "Seeking God: The Challenge of Being Religious in America", and it will feature such speakers as Dr. Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God; Professor Stephen Carter of Yale Law School, author of The Culture of Disbelief; Dr. E. P. anders; Dr. Shaye J. D. Cohenl; Dr. Julius Lester; Commonweal editor Margaret Steinfels O'Brien; Rabbi Michael Cooke of Hebrew Union College; Rev. Cecil Murray of Los Angeles; Dr. Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary; Dr. Neil Gilman of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Dr. Paul van Buren of Temple University (Ret.); Dr. Anthony Saldarini of Boston College; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Leon Klenicki of the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbis Jack Bemporad and Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. For further information, please write to the National Workshop Office at One Canterbury Green, Stamford, CT 06901, or phone (203) 324-7816. For hotel information, call 1-800-325-3535. You may also inquire by e-mail to or (Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, who chairs the national Planning Committee for the Workshop, is Associate Director of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, D.C.)