Interfaith Panel Offers Insight into Local Religions

December 3, 2017
The Republic

An interfaith panel that provided information about six religions provided more than 100 Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School students with insight into faith traditions around the globe.

CSA New Tech world history students attended the Nov. 15 panel at the school featuring speakers representing Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

The panel discussion is meant to allow students to see people with different faiths interacting in a positive way and show them the diversity of religion they might not see every day, said Andrea Behling, CSA New Tech world history teacher.

“In a very divisive time in our country’s history, we think it is invaluable for students to see and accept people who might be different than them and engage in meaningful conversation,” Behling said.

Students asked the panelists a variety of questions, including whether they had experienced religious prejudice and also about their beliefs about the after-life.

Alex Slabosky, a member of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, spoke about his faith and said he has had people make comments about being Jewish.

Slabosky also said with a focus on reform Judaism, there is an emphasis on social justice in society. “As a congregation, we’ll spend time on that,” he said.

Samar Akermawi, talking about the Islam faith, said she believes many people don’t understand her religion, but she is willing to educate people.

Akermawi also said as a member of the Islamic faith, she tries to lend a helping hand to others whenever possible.

“If you ask me for help, I don’t care who you are or where you come from, I’ll help you,” Akermawi said.

She added she believes there is a misconception about what Islam is about because of how it is portrayed on the news, prompting some to think it is violent. However, Akermawi stressed that isn’t the case.

“We just want love and peace,” she said. “All you’ve got to do is open your eyes.”

She also encouraged students to be kind to one another and those around them.

“We are all looking for peace and love and the goodness in life,” Akermawi said. “We are all human beings.”

“We see each other as brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Felipe Martinez, who leads First Presbyterian Church in Columbus.

Gurinder Singh Khalsa, who spoke about Sikhism, said the religion is the fifth largest in the world with 30 million members worldwide and is the fastest growing faith in Indiana. Khalsa is the founder and chairman of the SikhsPAC, which works to bridge the Sikh community to Americans of all faiths and cultures, according to the organization’s website.

CSA New Tech freshman Rebecca Moore said the panel helped her develop a better understanding of how similar the faiths are, but also how there are different ways of interacting with each other.

“I didn’t even realize there were so many religions in Columbus … but I didn’t realize before this whole project as a whole that we had a Hindu temple near us or that we had a large Jewish community,” Moore said.

The panel was a follow-up in learning about different aspects of the religions at CSA New Tech that involved doing research, watching videos and creating displays, Moore said.

Behring said the panel has been presented at CSA New Tech for about eight years. It was important for students to learn about religion and diversity in a meaningful way, she said.

“It’s my favorite project we do because I think the students gain so much from it, so hopefully it’ll continue to be effective and meaningful for them,” she said.

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