Harmony Day 2013

 ‘Family and Diversity’

21 March 2013

Event report

Boroondara Interfaith Network partnered with Camcare to deliver its final event for the 2012-13 calendar – an afternoon of storytelling, learning and understanding about our City’s diverse families. Community members came together to hear about the role of different faiths in family life and the significance of various cultural traditions.

Kindly hosted by Ashburton Baptist Church, the afternoon’s proceedings commenced with Theresa Rajah, Acting Community Development Officer as the event MC who welcomed and introduced the Harmony Day event. The afternoon brought together our interfaith network and interested members of the community to hear from speakers from different faith communities, to provide insights into how they believe their faith shapes or influences their life at home and in the wider community. Speakers also covered details about how their families celebrate, pray, grieve or deal with hardship.

The focus of this special gathering was ultimately to increase awareness and understanding of the diversity of our community from a faith perspective and promote respect for the diversity of beliefs and traditions. As part of the collaborative effort with Camcare, the event’s theme was most meaningful given the work that Camcare does with many of Boroondara’s local families.

The national theme for Harmony Day this year was ‘Many Stories – One Australia’ – and the Boroondara Interfaith Network organised this event to recognise the multitude of stories and experiences which make us a vibrant and diverse society. In addition to celebrating diversity, it was also about bridging the many gaps that still exist between what can often be the difference between tolerating and engaging with our diversity.

Speaker presentations

Our first speaker for the afternoon was Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, a Rabbi in London for 15 years before coming to Melbourne 10 years ago to work at the Leo Baeck Synagogue in East Kew. He has since been instrumental in establishing the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia and many other programs and initiatives including the Jewish Ecological Coalition and more recently, an interfaith environmental group ‘GreenFaith’.

Rabbi Jonathan took attendees through the various celebrations and traditions practised by the Jewish community – including the Sabbath or ‘shabbat’ and its particular importance in a Jewish home as a time of no work. Rabbi Jonathan also brought along various religious items such as matzah (the unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the Passover holiday) and items of religious clothing such as the kippah (the cap worn on the head by men) and the Tallit or prayer shawl worn by a rabbi.   Through his presentation and various stories about his own family, attendees were able to understand the ways in which Jewish families come together to pray and celebrate.

Our next speaker, Dilnaz Billimoria, was a representative of the Zoroastrian community. Dilnaz lived in Dubai for 10 years and now in Melbourne for 11 years. In addition to working in banking, Dilnaz is an active volunteer with the Whitehorse Interfaith Network and Women’s Interfaith Network. Dilnaz took attendees through a brief history of the Zoroastrian community – an ancient Iranian religion and religious philosophy originating from the Eastern part of ancient Persia and practised in India by people of the Parsi community (ethnic Persian people of Zoroastrian communities in India).

Dilnaz explained the many belief systems and rituals of the Zoroastrian community and wished everyone a ‘Happy Nowruz’ as it was the Persian New Year on this day. Attendees were told about the meaning of different colours throughout various life milestones, the presence of fire during prayer and the significance of ritual purity.

Breakout -Expression through art

Before breaking for afternoon tea, Rev. Fiona Hill guided participants through an art exercise to express what cultural diversity means to them. Attendees were provided with an array of pastels, markers and pencils to bring their vibrant art piece to life. Some of these art works are included below.

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After a fantastic cultural afternoon tea provided by the team at Cultural Education, Rachel Shields, a song woman and a teacher, introduced herself to attendees as a Gamillaroi and Wailwan woman who’s ancestral family originated from NSW, and performed an acknowledgement of country. To convey the beliefs and rituals of her ancestral family’s spirituality, Rachel took the gathering of attendees through a guided Dreamtime reflection. People were asked to close their eyes and reflect on their connection with the land and to take themselves back to a time of creation. This was a deep and contemplative experience for all those who participated, as people were able to understand the beliefs and spiritual practice of our Indigenous community by listening to the soothing words of Rachel’s reflection.

Our next speaker was Rev. Dr Geoff Pound, who was the principal of Whitley (Baptist) College before going to the Arab Emirates where he worked as a writer and journalist. He is an active community figure in Ashburton and well respected for his contributions to interfaith dialogue and peace. Rev. Geoff Pound explained to participants the traditions and teachings common to the Baptist faith and in turn, his experiences in Melbourne and abroad as a result of practicing his faith and working with young people from different faiths.

To wrap up the presentations from our series of speakers, Simone Rutherford, Team Leader Family Services and Pari Sanyü, Manager Community Support Services spoke to attendees about the role of Camcare and the types of services provided in line with the changing lives and experiences of local families. Attendees were encouraged to increase awareness around the community of the support services available to local families and especially to the growing population of diverse families in Boroondara.

Conclusion

Theresa Rajah concluded the afternoon’s proceedings by thanking all our presenters and participants for their input and insight into their faith and family lives. Theparting message for the afternoon was that if we can all be part of a broader dialogue that continues this sharing of stories beyond today, then we are certainly contribute to this greater awareness and progress towards a common ground; the true meaning behind celebrating Harmony Day around the country.

The Boroondara Interfaith Network is most grateful to our volunteer planning committee and the project partners who helped bring this event together. In particular, our sincere thanks to Pari Sanyü, Fiona Hill, Jamel Kaur and our guest speakers.