Hindus and Jews Unite on Capitol Hill in Rare Meeting of Spiritual Leaders
Washington, D.C. (June 17, 2009) - Several of Hinduism's most senior spiritual and religious leaders traveled from India to come together with Jewish leaders at Capitol Hill here yesterday in a rare meeting jointly organized by the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (convened by Swami Dayananda Saraswati), American Jewish Committee (AJC), Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and World Council of Religious Leaders (WCORL). Two days of intense dialogue hosted at AJC offices and visits to synagogues and temples spanning New York City and Washington, D.C. culminated yesterday with a briefing held in the Rayburn Building on the Hill. Attendees were addressed by Hindu and Jewish leaders, officials from the Obama Administration and Ambassador Bahij Mansour, Director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Religious Affairs Department.
Swami Avdeshananda Giri, Trustee of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, an apex unifying body of many of the most prominent Hindu religious sampradayas (traditions), led the Hindu Sabha delegation.
"Hindus believe that the whole world is one family so we are committed to non-violence, brotherhood and peace," said Swami Avdeshananda. "In order to bring forth communal harmony and peace throughout the world, we need to engage in interfaith dialogue to foster mutual understanding and respect. In that spirit, we began two summits ago and continued today with the Jews as a first step."
The AJC's Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, represented the Jewish perspective and spoke of the shared histories and mutual beliefs of the two faith communities.
"America is on the cutting edge of the new Hindu Jewish relationship," stated Rabbi Rosen. "I hope these two summits will serve to galvanize this relationship in the U.S. for the benefit of not only these two communities, but society at large."
These events, the first in the United States, followed a historic Hindu-Jewish Summit held in New Delhi in 2007 and Jerusalem in 2008--first initiated by Bawa Jain, Secretary General of the WCORL.
"In the coming together of the world's two oldest religions, I see great prospects for furthering strategic relations between India-Israel and India-Israel and the U.S." said Mr. Jain. "The World Council of Religions is committed to expand this dialogue by engaging the other major world traditions similarly in religious diplomacy."
The earlier summits abroad resulted in the first breakthrough "Declaration" that among other points, affirmed mutual belief in One Supreme Being, the sanctity of human life and the rejection of violence to achieve goals, the need to have religious scholars from each tradition review school textbooks and finding ways to weigh in together on some contemporary scientific and ethical dilemmas. The Declaration was hailed as an example of concrete results of mutual Hindu-Jewish explorations.
The HAF co-sponsored this latest effort as the delegations looked for ways of interacting with lawmakers as an example of strong unity between otherwise diverse religious traditions. The HAF and AJC, both with long-standing Capitol Hill ties, leveraged contacts at the House, Senate and Administration to facilitate introductions of their respective communities' faith leaders.
"Too often, as human rights advocates, we have had to join our Jewish colleagues in bearing witness to brutal religious hatred, repression and terrorism against Hindus and Jews to Capitol Hill," said Suhag Shukla, HAF's Managing Director. "It was a rare opportunity to this time bring our most revered spiritual leaders to this place to share their blessings, celebrate what binds us as people of faith and absorb the serenity and wisdom that their presence affords."