Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke, 3FF co-founder
Mary and I first met Sir Sigmund and Lady Hazel Sternberg soon after I had become Director of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1984. It was at Gatwick Airport. We were on the way to the International Council of Christians and Jews. When Sigi saw us he came down the escalator which was going up. I realised at once that here was a man who would not let difficulties stand in his way.
At the time Sigi was Hon. Treasurer of the Council of Christians and Jews. Early on when I was worrying about finances, he said, “There’s no point having an appeal until we have a good-sized deficit” – which I soon supplied him with. Sigi was also then President of the International Council of Christians and Jews, which he had done much to re-establish.
At that time, both ICCJ and CCJ were beginning to invite Muslims to share in their programmes and both Sigi and I thought that in time both would organisations would broaden their remit. I was also already active in the World Congress of Faiths (WCF), of which Sigi soon became a Vice-President. We both attended the first modern Parliament of World Religions (CPWR) in Chicago in 1993.
In the mid-1990s, CCJ made clear that its focus was specifically on Christian-Jewish relations, with its unfinished agenda. WCF and CPWR included all faiths. Sheik Zaki Badawi – a leading Muslim who was Head of the Muslim College in Ealing – and Sir Sigmund were aware that a piece in the interfaith jigsaw was missing. There was a need for a place where members of the Abrahamic religions could meet. Sigi rang me up and told me about this and I said it was a good idea. A few days later, I discovered that I was a Co-Founder.
There are times when you want the whole family together, other times when you want to be alone with your spouse or occasions when you may want to talk to one child by herself or himself. In the same way, each dialogue has its own dynamic – rivalry between interfaith organisations in a world where so much needs to be done is a disgrace.
Despite my surprise, I am very grateful for playing a part in the astonishing growth of the Three Faiths Forum. Mary and I were soon being introduced to Monarchs, Ambassadors, Cardinals, Rabbis, Imams and numerous Rotarians, as well as lots of enthusiastic young people. More important, with the growing importance of the Muslim community, the festering wounds in Israel/Palestine and the growth of extremism, Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue has a special importance, although 3FF rightly welcomes people of all religions or none to take part in its programmes.
Sigi took an interest in everyone he met. He and Hazel have been wonderful friends to Mary and me, as they have been to so many other people in many parts of the world. Indeed, interfaith is really about making friends – and friendship knows no barriers.
May their example inspire us, like those who kept faith in the dark days of the Shoah, to be united in opposition to violence and religious extremism and work together and pray for the healing of the world.