On Sunday afternoon, 6 November at 2pm, more than 200 people from Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities – plus many other faith groups and community organisations and members of the public walked together in order to display community friendship.
This Friendship Walk was organised by Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) that was founded in 2004 as a safe meeting place for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The original vision of JCMA was to hold annual live-in conferences for members of the three faiths, but today the Association has increased its outreach to include a Schools Program, Women’s committee, Text Reading Groups and Seminars.
A major focus of JCMA in the current climate is social inclusion and harm-minimisation.
Last year, in the context of growing tensions in the community, JCMA held its initial “Friendship Walk”: a visible demonstration of friendship open to the whole community. The program for the walk was to gather at a Christian venue (St Peter’s Anglican Church, East Melbourne), then move to a Jewish venue (East Melbourne Synagogue) and to conclude at a Muslim venue (the Albanian Mosque in Carlton).
At each venue the host priest, rabbi and imam welcome us with prayer and some experience of their culture and community. In 2015 the event attracted just over 100 people from all three communities.
This year at East Melbourne, we gathered in St Peter’s Church Hall where we registered and received name tags (to make conversation easier). Fr Hugh Kempster prayed the Peace Prayer of St Francis, and invited us all into the church to light a candle for peace.
We then crossed Albert Street to the Synagogue where Rabbi Dovid Gutnick welcomed us by blowing the shofar (ram’s horn). A musician and singer from the Jewish Sephardic tradition introduced us to some liturgical music before striking up the song “Salaam” (peace). Spontaneously women and men rose up from the pews and began dancing together!
We then set off for the Albanian Mosque in Drummond Street, North Carlton. The distance is 5kms, through the parks and pleasant streets and highrise housing tenements. (A minibus supplied by Jewish Care took those who were unable to cover the distance). This gave plenty of time and space and opportunity for the participants to walk alongside one another and to engage in conversation on the way.
We arrived at the mosque where they had plenty of bottles of cold water available. We crowded inside, filling every spare space on the carpet, as we were welcomed by the President of the Albanian Society, Vahid Goga, and Imam Bekim Hasani. For many on the walk, this was the first time they had ever been in a mosque. The Albanian Society had prepared a table overflowing with goodies for afternoon tea, and it was after 6pm that the last of crowd exchanged hugs and handshakes and email addresses and waved good bye.
SBS TV were present to report on the event – which is very pleasing as often such “good news” stories fail to register among all the drama and violence on the evening news.
If you missed out this time, you can be assured that JCMA Friendship Walk will become an annual event. It is a demonstration of fact that far from creating division in our Australian society, faith communities play an important role in promoting openness, embrace and friendship.
If you would like to learn more about JCMA or become a member, visit our website at: www.jcma.org.au or follow our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jcmaonline/