NEW YORK – Rabbi Mark L. Winer, president of the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony and former senior rabbi at the West End Synagogue in London, became on Monday the first American rabbi to receive a Member of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II.
Winer is being recognized for “promoting interfaith dialogue and social cohesion in London and the UK.”
“I am humbled and thrilled to accept the MBE. This honor demonstrates the importance of continuing the crucial work of improving interfaith relations, education, mutual respect and understanding, to combat religious hatred and violence in the world,” he said.
The MBE does not confer a title upon Winer. “I’m at the same level as The Beatles, but not as high as Sir Elton John,” he joked.
Growing up in Utah and Texas, Winer said he was always “The Jew” in his neighborhood, and was involved at an early age with interfaith dialogue and outreach. “From the beginning of my rabbinate, I’ve always been pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable,” Winer told The Jerusalem Post.
Talking to other religious communities was something that Winer described as “a hobby” while he was a congregational rabbi. But one of the most important goals of a synagogue, he explained, is to interface with the non-Jewish world and to make partnerships that work toward tikkun olam (repairing the world).
The Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony (FAITH), the charitable foundation Winer started in the US in 1995 and in Britain in 1998, partners with local organizations to create peace-building and interfaith dialogue programs.
It operates in the US, UK, Germany, Israel and Russia, with plans to expand to to Brazil, South Africa, Dubai and elsewhere.
The state of interfaith dialogue differs greatly from country to country and from religious group to religious group, he said. “I have found a special niche in being able to deal with Muslims,” Winer said. “Not the extremists, of course, but the huge numbers of moderate Muslims that I would argue are the overwhelming majority, and who are desperate for interfaith dialogue. You have to engage with them.”
After serving congregations in Connecticut and New York for over 30 years, Winer moved to England in 1998 to accept the senior position with the West End Synagogue in London, one of the most influential institutions in the non-American Diaspora. “It would up being a terrific period of time,” he said.
Following the 9/11 attacks in the US and the 7/7 London Underground attacks, Winer was active on the media circuits calling for tolerance and understanding.
After 9/11, Winer recalled, the chaplin to the speaker of the House of Commons brought him in to meet with the Muslim Caucus in Parliament and to work to ensure the queen visited houses of worship of all the faiths before her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. He was active in building relationships with Muslim and Arab leaders and bringing them to the synagogue. He once led a Seder for 150 MPs in the Parliament with the bishop of London and one of the imams from the Central Mosque.
Winer retired as senior rabbi at West End in 2010, and served two times as chaplin to the lord mayor of Westminster. Winer said he was grateful that, because the West End Synagogue is located in an Arab neighborhood, he was able to “make peace every day” in his neighborhood. “We have historically survived as a people by being peace-makers and hope-mongers,” Winer said.
“I’ve always said, if you want to make peace, you have to be willing to talk to your enemies.
Rev. Richard Chartres, the Church of England’s bishop of London, said Winer “has worked tirelessly for cooperation between Judaism and the many other religions represented in modern London’s extraordinarily diverse population.”
“He is in his own league,” said Rubab Mehdi Hassan Rizvi, a Pakistani-British Muslim lawyer and head of the International Imam Hussain Council. “He has worked tirelessly to bridge gaps between communities.”