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Biblical Studies Professor Designs Interfaith Foster Care Summit

by University Relations

Leaders from Los Angeles’ diverse faith communities gathered at University Synagogue in Brentwood on May 14 for the Interfaith Foster Care Summit, a three-hour program advocating support for the L.A. County foster system.

The idea came from APU biblical studies associate professor Robert Duke, Ph.D., who submitted the conference proposal to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesChangeMaker Challenge, which awards grants for innovative projects that address social issues in Los Angeles and draw the community together to make a meaningful impact.

Focused on the theme “Fostering Tikkun,” the conference educated religious leaders about the foster care system, identifying specific programs for their congregations to support and ultimately advocating unity under a common cause. “Fostering Tikkun,” derived from the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, means “repairing the world” and represents the Jewish concept of social justice as the responsibility to bring healing to the world. “We have the tendency to separate this world and the next, placing emphasis on eternity in heaven,” said Duke. “However, tikkun olam reminds us of our God-given responsibility to preserve and protect the world, mending the places that are broken. The ultimate goal of foster parenting is reunification—facilitating a redemptive process for children that repairs and reunites families.”

The conference emphasized the importance and needs of the foster system and featured Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue, KTTV Fox 11 News anchor and foster care advocate Christine Devine, and representatives from the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services. Current and former foster children, as well as foster and adoptive families, also shared their personal experiences of the healing power and difficulties of foster care.

Duke and his wife, foster parents who subsequently adopted, know firsthand the challenges facing these families. “Fostering is a full-time commitment that changes your family situation,” he said. “Involving another person in your family shifts your entire world. It was difficult saying goodbye to a little girl we cared for, but seeing the smile on her older sister’s face during their long-awaited reunion made the experience worthwhile. This is not just about providing care, but also about healing families.”

The speakers challenged attendees to act as catalysts for healing within their communities as the summit culminated in a call to action, asking all clergy members to speak in their churches on Father’s Day weekend. “This dynamic program deployed religious leaders throughout the city and county with a new drive to support foster care,” said Julie Munjack, executive director of University Synagogue. “Living in Los Angeles, we often have competing interests. However, the coalition hosting the Interfaith Foster Care Summit, its funders, volunteers, and attendees, understand the need to find safe and healthy foster families. Children are a shared responsibility, and we all have a part to play.”

Originally published in the Summer '14 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).