WINNIPEG— Planning has begun for the first-ever interfaith festival in Manitoba, an idea conceived by Perry Kimelman.
Kimelman, who is Jewish, proposed that during a weekend festival, synagogues, mosques, churches and temples would be opened, and people would be invited to come in and learn about each other’s faiths, in a celebration of peaceful coexistence.
“The festival will allow those who identify themselves strongly with their faith traditions an opportunity to share this aspect of their lives with those that would like to learn and experience another’s faith traditions in an open-house environment,” Kimelman says.
“This celebration will invite open dialogue, which is not customarily available during traditional faith services.”
About a year ago, Kimelman, who is a dentist, presented his idea to the Manitoba Interfaith Council, which responded favourably. He then put together an advisory committee.
“We have a really good quality steering committee made up of people from different faiths,” he says. “I believe they have the stature and connections necessary to make this vision a reality.”
Asad Khan, a retired internal medicine specialist who represents the Muslim community on the Interfaith Council, has joined the steering committee. Khan, who was born in India, was honoured last year by the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism for his interfaith work. He is now chair of the Islamic Education Foundation of Manitoba, which promotes higher education for Muslim women by granting university scholarships.
“During the festival, the Grand Mosque, which I attend, would be opened, and people could visit at the time of prayer, and then dialogue with Imam Shykh Hosni Azzabi… [who] originates from North Africa and has a degree in education,” Khan says.
Joyce Milgard, the mother of David Milgard, spent decades fighting for her son’s release from jail following his wrongful conviction for murder. She has volunteered to be on the festival’s steering committee. Other members include Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue; James Christie, dean of the faculty of theology at the University of Winnipeg; and Karen Toole, provincial co-ordinator of spiritual care for Manitoba Health.
Toole, a Christian involved with the United Church, has “shared an interfaith round table with Dr. Khan… I think there is a will among people right now not just to know our neighbour, but to celebrate our diversity. We’re living in a time where the world has come to each other’s doorsteps and we can celebrate the fact that we can walk through each other’s doors.”
She believes the festival will draw large numbers. “Already in Winnipeg there is an interfaith series where people can sign up to visit a religious site – a church, synagogue, mosque or other sanctuary. The series is drawing about 200 people per visit. Fifteen years ago, this series would have drawn only 15 people.”
“Besides peaceful coexistence, it is my hope that this festival will explore the power of forgiveness as a meaningful step on the road to peace,” Kimelman says.
“It’s my hope that the festival can serve as an exportable model of interfaith co-operation for other cities,” he adds.
Financing would come from groups who want to participate in the festival, Toole says.
“If the vision is good, the money will come,” Kimelman adds. “Right now, the committee is focusing on choosing a suitable date for the festival, which we anticipate will run annually.”