By: Alexandra Friedlander, Junior, Winchester Thurston School

On  March 31st, 2019, a group of teens from different religious backgrounds gathered at a community event sponsored by the Muslim Women’s Association of Pittsburgh(MWAP) for interfaith dialogue on religious unity and tolerance. Dialogue is a tool to encourage communication between communities.  This is especially needed now as we experience an increasingly divided nation and international tragic events based on a lack of understanding.

Over the past years, we can count too many senseless crimes at places of worship based on religious intolerance. In June 2015, a shooting in Charleston targeted one of America’s oldest African American churches. In October 2018, just a few miles away in Squirrel Hill, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the U.S. occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue while Shabbat morning services were held, 11 people died. Last month, 51 Muslim worshippers were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern New Zealand’s history during Friday prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand. Everyone should have the right to worship without fear, and an attack on a place of worship is an attack on all of us across our religions.

I created The Dialogue Project, a series of quarterly dialogues open to adults and teens of all faiths and backgrounds in Western Pennsylvania, in response to current events. We are experiencing an increasingly divided nation and tragic events that are taxing our politics and national identity. Dialogue is a productive and peaceful tool to bring communities and narratives together over social, political, and economic divides. My facilitation of interfaith dialogue at Few of a Kind Store was a real success. Teens from various religious backgrounds gathered to learn about each other’s religion and background. The teens represented urban Pittsburgh, suburbs, and as far as Youngstown Ohio. The mother of the Youngstown teens remarked that she “drove for more than two hours to expose my children to dialogue.” Several participants indicated an interest in bringing the interfaith dialogue to their schools and places of worship.

Before we began the dialogue, I established some community norms, including openness and respect to difference and disagreement; speaking from the “I” perspective, and stating opinions but not trying to persuade someone of what you believe.  In addition to the dialogue, I showed a film and facilitated discussion on the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China of which many teens were unaware. All of the participants were very excited to continue the dialogue which will take place in the upcoming months.

Alexandra Friedlander, a junior at Winchester Thurston and founder of The Dialogue Project, attended Seeds of Peace and has also partnered with the national nonprofit Repair the World on dialogue projects.  Alexandra would like to thank everyone at MWAP, especially, Sarah Jameela Martin and Dr. Malak Bokhari.