Jesus: The Misunderstood Jew was a three-day event that began at First Narayever synagogue and ended at College Street United Church. It was a journey into understanding moving between Christian and Jewish communities of faith in Toronto, June 3 – 5, 2016.
The inspiration was Amy-Jill Levine, University Professor of the New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Levine, who is Jewish, has authored the well-known book The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. This book was the basis for the conference.
On Friday night, 159 attendees met for a Sabbath dinner at First Narayever hosted by Professor Levine. The Sabbath dinner was the big highlight for many. Getting a guided tour through the rituals and blessings of that meal was a unique and very special experience for Christians.
Professor Levine also lectured through a full day on questions surrounding Jesus. She spoke talked about how Christians and Jews have misunderstood Jesus, and how we have misunderstood each other.
On Sunday, Jewish participants came to a College Street United service and were delighted by the openness of the participants to the Jewish context and meaning of the parables. Again, Professor Levine lectured. Our Jewish colleagues remarked on the hospitality and welcome of the church crowd.
Not only were people able to understand each other more fully, several connections were made, bridges of trust between religious organizations in our community. Friendships were begun and learnings were shared.
The conference was a delightful mix of people from all socio-economic and a variety of religious backgrounds; from people with financial means, people with a long-time commitment to a faith community, to people from the street corner who live on the edge. Some people travelled from Newfoundland and Winnipeg and some who joined have no fixed address but live in shelters downtown. With funding support from the United Church Foundation, the organizers were able to fully cover costs for 26 people.
Also, a community of 19 people participated on-line through the United-in-Learning team. Gathering sometimes in groups or individually, the on-line crowd participated in the conference by feeding in their questions and comments. It was a true blessing to have them participate.
The Rev. Chris Levan says,
“The generosity of individual sponsors and the grant from the United Church Foundation were the main reasons we were able to open the doors so wide and welcome in so many who otherwise would not have been able to attend. We are so grateful for that support.”