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Joel talking alongside St Andrews’ lecturer, Dr Jeffrey Murer

By Joel Salmon, President St Andrews Jewish Society

St Andrews is a tiny town, dotted somewhere on the east coast of Scotland. It’s a strange place, with an eclectic mixture of golf courses, castles, cathedrals, pubs, cheese shops and old people.

But from the past year we can add strong and dynamic interfaith activity to its list of unique aspects.

This year, the Jewish Society, Islamic Society and Christian Union formalised our collective interfaith work into an organisation called the St Andrews Coexistence Initiative, which has so far exceeded all expectations and brought together so many different people.

It’s important to remember the context from which this initiative developed: two years ago I had to fend off pro-Palestinian protestors from our Jewish Society ball, and a few years before a Jewish student was abused for supporting Israel.

There was a general lack of any kind of interfaith activity, and this was creating a toxic vacuum in St Andrews.

We decided that this had to end, and therefore this initiative was born.

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Joel speaking next to Hashim Khan, another conference organiser and Islamic Society committee member.

Fast forward to today, and we have held a number of diverse events, catering to a wide variety of people.

These include potluck dinners, a discussion on freedom of speech and social media, and our biggest event of the year: the award-winning Conflict and Coexistence Conference, which was sold out and attended by over 100 people.

We heard from a variety of speakers, including the university Principal who is a world-leading expert in terrorism; a former Jerusalem-based diplomatic journalist who had many interviews with Rabin and Arafat; and a Syrian interfaith activist.

We have had a significant amount of interest from people looking to join us, so next year we are hoping to expand our initiative and reach even more people.

Interfaith is about more than just awkwardly talking about trivial and shallow matters, it’s about feeling comfortable to ask questions, offer your personal opinion and share experiences together. I hope we’ve gone some way to achieving that in St Andrews.