“I have a feeling that we’re exposed to so much media that we think we’re supposed to fall in love and … ride off into the sunset,” said Rabbi Hyim Shafner, who was perched on a bar stool and holding a glass of wine. But real love, he said, takes work.
The Hebrew word for love, ahavah, is from the root meaning “give,” he said. “It works both ways. Love makes you want to give, and giving makes you love.”
Next to Shafner was the Rev. Thomas Bowen, a Baptist minister and director of religious affairs for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The two clergymen sat facing 20 people. Together they were trying to answer this question: “Is there a future for monogamy in a world of overwhelming choice?”
The gathering, settled into the cozy space of 2622 in Washington, was the third in a monthly series exploring uncomfortable questions from religious perspectives. Called “Oh My God!”, the series was created by Shafner, rabbi of Kesher Israel; and 2622’s managing partner, Katie Shannon, who also acted as moderator. They say they want to air the views of multiple religions.
Hanging lights and ample couches gave the room a comfortable vibe. Shannon said Oh My God! stemmed in part from her personal experience. She converted to Judaism four years ago and said she loves exploring and understanding other religions.
“I’m trying to provide the environment I really needed in my personal life, and being able to do that for other people as well,” she said.
During Oh My God!, Shannon started the conversation by asking prepared questions. After a while though, audience members began asking their own.
“It felt like you could have a candid discussion without being judgmental,” attendee Ben Lovitt said later. “I could have asked a lot more questions now, I think.”
Shafner and Shannon said they want to inspire discussion, curiosity and openness in attendees.
“I think what I hear people say [afterwards] is, ‘I just get more curious,’ which is exactly what we want,” said Shannon. “We don’t want people to be so staunch in holding their belief system that they’re not willing to listen to someone else.”
Bringing in religious leaders from different backgrounds allows the conversation to diversify with perspectives from multiple religious texts and teachings, according to Shafner.
“I find that inevitably even though we’re coming from very different religious perspectives, when it comes to emotional issues, social issues, we have very similar perspectives, although sometimes differences do come out,” said Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi.
Though it was the third Oh My God! event, this was Bowen’s first time as a panelist.
“[Christians] build upon Jewish tradition,” Bowen said. “I learned some things.”
On monogamy, Bowen pointed to Christian wedding vows that include the words “forsaking all others.” We’re not supposed to reevaluate down the line, he said, but there is a lot more choice in terms of marriage today – which Bowen counted generally as a good thing.
However, “if you can choose to get in, the thought is you can choose to get out,” said Bowen.
But both Bowen and Shafner acknowledged that being physically attracted to only one person is not realistic.
Because of the nontraditional topics, and the casual vibe, Shafner said the program makes religious leaders more accessible.
“I think sometimes in public forums we tend to shy away from that which is the hot issue is at the moment and it’s precisely that that people want to talk about,” Shafner said.
Ezra Glass attended for the first time this month and enjoyed the discussion.
“I thought they didn’t shy away from too much, which was nice,” he said. “They were very thoughtful in how they were presenting things.”
Next month’s topic is a bit raunchier than monogamy, and will aim to answer the question, “Is all sex holy?” The event will be on Aug. 8.
“Yes, they’re uncomfortable topics,” said Shannon, “but we specifically try to create an environment where it feels safe for anyone to be able to ask questions.”
Correction: The name of the venue was incorrectly typed as ‘2262’ in the article. It has been corrected to ‘2622.’