Interfaith council invites all to ‘Meet the Neighbors’

Ayesha Malik, a local Muslim and member of the Spokane Interfaith Council, said ethnic diversity isn’t Spokane’s strong suit.

The latest census data shows that 89 percent of the county’s population is white.

“With that being said, I have found that Spokane is covered with many different religious institutions,” Malik said. “Even in Spokane, it is hard for any one religion to exist in isolation and ignore the others. Our community is connected.”

That’s why she’s helping the interfaith council organize Meet the Neighbors, an area house of worship tour that runs monthly through April. Tuesday’s windstorm forced this week’s kickoff event to be postponed.

The first Meet the Neighbors will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave., where Rabbi Tamar Malino will talk about Judaism, the history of Judaism in Spokane and give a tour of the temple.

The tour continues later in December at the Sikh Temple of Spokane (called a gudwara).

Malino said Meet the Neighbors is especially timely given the recent events in Paris; people are “hungry for peace.”

“People are looking for ways to make connection and to build understanding in our world,” she said. “This is a key opportunity to do that.”

She added that people are often hesitant to visit a new house of worship on their own. She hopes after visiting the synagogue through Meet the Neighbors, people will feel comfortable going back again, have a better understanding of Judaism and will have an increased curiosity to learn about other religions in Spokane.

Interfaith Council President R. Skyler Oberst said the idea for Meet the Neighbors came from a survey the organization conducted last year, where the majority of respondents said they were interested in visiting various local places of worship but didn’t want to go alone and were worried about accidentally offending adherents.

“This takes the fear out of the equation. It’s opening up the door, pulling back the curtain. It’s an opportunity to get accurate information about their neighbors,” he said.

He added that it’s an event not only for people of faith, but for all residents.

“If we don’t know about our neighbors, we don’t know about people in our community,” Oberst said.

He said the event was also fueled by recent vandalism throughout the area – a swastika spray painted onto Temple Beth Shalom in October 2014, the robbery at Knox Presbyterian Church in July and the “Death to Islam” graffiti painted on the local Bosnian center, also in July.

“The question isn’t ‘Why now?’ It’s ‘Why not now?’ ” he said.

So far about 100 people have shown an interest in attending the first Meet the Neighbors event.

Oberst said he believes this is because people want to build a better Spokane together by building bridges, “not burning them.”

Future Meet the Neighbors venues include the Spokane Islamic Center, the Sikh Temple of Spokane, Sravasti Abbey, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and a Baha’i Gathering. The interfaith council hopes to continue it after that. Oberst said guests should visit the council’s website for future venue details at www.spokaneifc.org.

Meet the Neighbors is a fundraiser for the Spokane Interfaith Council. Money raised through ticket sales will support the council’s religious literacy projects and creation of a Meet the Neighbors YouTube series outlining worship etiquette at participating congregations.