Approximately 40 students from St. Agnes Academy, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School, and the Emery/Weiner School spent two days learning about Catholicism, Judaism, and how to put their religious values into action together at the Lowenstein Foundation Catholic-Jewish Youth Summit February 20 and 21.
The Youth Summit, created by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) during the 2017-2018 school year, is in its second year, and was coordinated both years by ADL’s Education Director Susan Shaw, St. Agnes Academy’s Theology Department Chair Dr. Christine Hernandez, and Emery Weiner’s Director of Jewish Life Joe Weinstein-Sears, with help from Theology and Engineering Teacher Andrew Schaeperkoetter of Strake Jesuit.
This year’s Summit followed the theme “Sacred Spaces, Sacred Word,” and it began with a field trip to St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Congregation Emanu El, where student leaders explained their faith traditions as they led the group through parts of the facilities. The students ended their first day at the Rothko Chapel, where they spoke about the idea of a sacred space and shared time for reflection.
The second day continued the theme of Sacred Spaces, as students met at the Emery/Weiner School. Individual students spoke about their own sacred spaces—not just the physical spaces in which they worshipped—but the spaces in their heart where they found and practiced their faiths.
Emma Stein of St. Agnes told the group she was happiest serving others, and connecting with other humans was “her favorite way to connect with God.” She found that connection most often at an elementary school where she volunteers.
Johnny Ly of Strake Jesuit said one of the places he connects with his faith is in his living room, when he looks at the photos of relatives who have passed away, and Rebecca Bernstein of Emery/Weiner says she feels “closest to God when she’s in a community.”
Throughout the second day, the themes of sacred spaces, individual’s faith traditions and connecting with the community resounded. Students were given journals at the beginning of the youth summit and were asked to answer questions and write down their thoughts throughout the two days.
On the afternoon of the second day, Reverend Greg Han of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston spoke to students about the importance of community work, and participants planned services projects they could do together.
Students said they loved the Youth Summit. Damian Barrientos, a Junior at Strake Jesuit, said “It’s very eye-opening to see the two faiths come together and work to make the world a better place.” Katelyn Needler, a junior at St. Agnes said, “I think it’s a great opportunity to ask each other questions in a safe space and open the door to new conversations.”
Educators seemed to love it, also. Dr. Hernandez says she sees immediate benefits in our students. “They want to know more about students with different backgrounds and religions. Schaeperkoetter says “going to Catholic school can sometimes be insular. This is a tremendous opportunity to learn about faith and their forefathers in faith.”
Weinstein-Sears says he gets something out of the Summit, too. “There’s nothing that inspires me more than working with teenagers interested in working with each other, building lines of communication, and working to make this a better world.”
The Catholic-Jewish Youth Summit is made possible by the Lewis and Joan Lowenstein Foundation. ADL Education Director Susan Shaw said the Foundation and it’s sponsorship of the Summit provides “a wonderful opportunity for students to build bridges of understanding amongst different religious communities.”