Jewish Community Finds Inclusion and Meaning at Festival of Faiths

The annual Cincinnati Festival of Faiths recently concluded, running from Aug. 27 through Aug. 31. A kickoff event was held at the Cintas Center, with a series of virtual and in-person events held through last week, culminating in a peace march at Ault Park.

The festival was organized by EquaSion, a nonprofit working on interfaith relations in the greater Cincinnati area, with this year’s theme being “Compassion Through Action: Dwelling Together In Peace And Justice.”

The festival provides an opportunity for a myriad of faith organizations to come together and exchange ideas. There are Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, every flavor of Christian, and a small but mighty Jewish presence at the festival. One of this year’s honorary co-chairs was Rabbi Dr. Gary Zola, the recently retired executive director of the American Jewish Archives.

“This festival always attracts a curious crowd ready to explore and learn – including [about] the threat of antisemitism, Israel, and Jewish pride,” said Justin Kirschner, the director of the Cincinnati chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “We are grateful to EquaSion for fostering this culturally enriching space for over six years.”

The buzz of conversation mixed with the sound of a variety of musical and dance performances in the Cintas center. There were performances by the Rockwern children’s choir, an interfaith choir, and others.

“It’s fun [to perform] because everybody and every culture gets to hear you and see you,” said Asher Reiss, 9, who was performing with the Rockwern choir. 

Within the maze of booths, we caught up with Marie Krulewitch-Browne, the head of Ish who has been part of the festival since its inception. 

“We had our first Ish Festival event the year before their first event,” she said. “So I was really glad to give them a little advice and work with them on envisioning their first festival. it’s so cool to come back, you know, with the sixth event and see how it’s grown.”

Krulewitch-Browne noted how important this festival was as a place where people of different faiths could comfortably and non-judgmentally exchange ideas. That, to her, is why it is the perfect place for Ish to be. 

“We feel like it’s our duty to help humans universally connect through Jewish culture and ritual,” said Krulewitch-Browne.  “Our ability to connect with people who don’t identify as Jewish is one of my favorite things, and this is the perfect place to do that.”

The festival provides a space for smaller organizations, like the Jews of Color Sanctuary, to get noticed in not only the Jewish community but also the diverse faith community of Cincinnati.

“Jews of Color Sanctuary has been around since November 2019, nobody knows about us,” said Erica Riddick.  “It’s great to connect with so many people [even] if they don’t identify as Jewish people of color – so many people have said, ‘Oh I didn’t know your organization existed.’”

Festival of Faiths gives an opportunity for minority communities to have their voices heard, Riddick said. 

“We live in a world that is very Christian-focused,” she said. “It is beautiful to see the diversity here and see people from other faiths come to this with intention and openness of sharing who we all are and coming together.”