What Does Interfaith Look Like When Led by Women?

Leaders willingly take a risk by putting themselves, their beliefs, their hopes, and their morals out into the world. Leaders help bring communities together in easy times and hard ones and play such an incredibly important role in helping us connect to form deeper bonds of love among people. Women leaders in particular face a lot of scrutinies when we take the risk of stepping into roles that have us leading our communities--and still, it is so important that we do so.

Our upcoming June 16 event, Kindle and Connect: An Interfaith Gathering of Women Leaders is a virtual opportunity for all of us in roles of leadership to come together and support each other in our work. We hope everyone leaves having met someone, learned something, and taken something away. We already have an amazing diversity of people joining, including those who identify as Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Non-Religious, and more; people who identify as women or non-binary; and people from across a variety of U.S. states and Canadian provinces.  

Sometimes women leading do so in obvious, formal ways, like Rev. Jennifer Bailey (Christian, and IFYC alumna!) of the Faith Matters Network, Ann Dapice (Cherokee/Lenape) of T.K. Wolf, and Rabbi Deborah Waxman (Jewish) of Reconstructing Judaism, all of whom are serving on our closing panel on the gifts women bring to spiritual leadership. These women live out their values every day by stepping up to the helm of critical organizations, sometimes even founding them when there is a need (Rev. Bailey!), and are willing to put themselves out there in a public way to lead and make positive change in their communities. 

Elyse Brazel (Non-Religious), a 2021 IFYC Innovation Fellow, is one of the amazing members of the conference’s Planning Committee. She shares some insights into leadership: 

“I think the traditional image of ‘leadership’ is often problematic and can perpetuate toxic masculinity; dominance and control, ‘my way or the highway’ decision making, one-way communication, valuing strength and infallibility. I think this is why many people who don’t identify with these traits hesitate to own that title of, ‘Leader.’ But true leadership can look very different; Someone who creates spaces for their community to come together to build relationships. Someone who approaches conflict resolution by engaging with others through active listening and empathy. Someone inspiring others to work collaboratively and creatively to address issues in their community. Leaders are not perfect heroes; they have the flexibility and humility to know when they’re wrong, admit wrongdoing, grow from that experience, and be a model for others in their communities.” 

Other times, women are leading with their values by undertaking academic work to show the world their values. One example is our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Diana L. Eck (Christian) of the Pluralism Project, who since 1991 has been leading a research team at Harvard University to research religious diversity in the U.S. Her work helps us understand more deeply the diversity of the U.S. 

And yet other times, women are leading in quieter--but just as important--ways. This could be through teaching at Sunday School; working in the synagogue office; educating people on humanist values; and so much more. We can convey our values in so many ways, and there are many quiet leaders who lead by example. They are influencing so many in their community by being beacons of the values they hold dear, and that is an incredible way to guide a community.  

Elyse shared this story about passionate, quieter leaders: 

“I remember going to a conference in Rome in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. In a video, they shared, almost every person who was speaking about how far the Church has come in interreligious engagement was male, but almost all of the photos and video clips they shared of people actually doing the work on the ground were female. I have had the experience that much of the actual grassroots interreligious engagement is led by women.”  

And leadership is hard, no matter what kind you are doing. Putting yourself and your values on display so openly brings immense challenges and require deep vulnerability. Being a leader takes courage. If you are reading this, my guess is that you are already a leader in some way--we all just need to own our power. 

We warmly invite you to join us on June 16 for Kindle and Connect: An Interfaith Gathering of Women Leaders. Register now at bit.ly/interfaithwomenleaders, join the network at www.facebook.com/groups/interfaithwomenleaders, and let us all grow in understanding, respect, and love. 

 Allyson Zacharoff is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia, as well as a representative on several national interfaith dialogues. She has been blessed to follow her passion for interfaith dialogue in the U.S. and abroad. Allyson previously studied as an International Peacemaking Program Fellow at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut; a Conflict Resolution Fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem; and a Russell Berrie Fellow in Interreligious Studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Pontifical Gregorian University, both in Rome. The interfaith conversation continues on her blog, www.christmasandkreplach.blogspot.com 

Elyse Brazel is passionate about creating a more just and inclusive world. She is currently the Media Coordinator for the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue, and also an 2021 IFYC Innovation Fellow working on a Canadian Interfaith History Storytelling project. Elyse is an alumna of the Faiths Act Fellowship, The Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies, and the KAICIID International Fellowship Programme. She has a demonstrated history of inter-religious community building and facilitating trainings/workshops/experiential-learning courses on diversity & inclusion in higher education institutions across Canada. She has a strong education background with a Master of Arts in Public and Pastoral Leadership and a Certificate in Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies from Vancouver School of Theology, as well as a Diploma focused in Inter-religious Studies from The Pontifical University of St.Thomas Aquinas in Rome. 


If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.