On the first night of Hanukkah this year, I found myself in an unusual place. I was supposed to be at a Jewish communal event hosted by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. But at the last minute I was asked by the Indonesian Ambassador, Dino Patti Djalal, to participate in an interfaith panel which included one of the leading Muslim clerics of his country, Dr. Din Syamsuddin. Dr. Syamsuddin is the president of Muhammadiyah, an organization of 29 million Muslims that sponsors a wide range of social and educational programs in Indonesia and more than a dozen universities. Also on the panel was Rev. Michael Livingston, a Presbyterian and former president of the National Council of Churches who is now heading up their initiative to fight poverty.
The fact is that I only accepted the invitation because of a remarkable speech I heard given by Ambassador Djalal a week earlier as part of an international conference sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA). The organization was unveiling a new initiative to increase the engagement of faith communities in health and development efforts around the globe.