AFSI was created in 1999, by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, a first-generation Hungarian immigrant who came to the United States during World War II planning to rescue his family from the Nazis, only to have them tragically slaughtered by that infamous regime before they could book safe passage and join him here. What the Rabbi accomplished was to go beyond the normal human reactions of hatred, grief, and fear, rising above them to recognize the common humanity of Spirit, and the Joy in the hearts of all humankind. Having conquered his own darkness, he went on to form not only a new synagogue, but to join forces with religious leaders of divergent faiths, beliefs, traditions, and approaches, and to establish the first Interfaith seminary back in the 1970s. Bringing together open-minded and open-hearted students, themselves from a variety of backgrounds, he established the course of study that has continued his legacy since his death at age 98 on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year in 2010.
AFSI provides one-year program that includes self-reflection, reading and writing, as well as visits to holy places of worship, and both lectures from and interviews with clergy and leaders from the wide spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions that comprise today’s multi-ethnic cultural landscape. Practices are tried and understood by students; questions are asked and discussed, students present sermons and write theses on their areas of greatest interest and, after a year of in-depth reflection and study, students are ordained as Interfaith Ministers, each going in the direction most strongly called by his or her own inner heart. Thanks to electronic media, students from across the continent have participated in the NY-based classes, corresponding by video, audio, e-mail and online groups, with the semester culminating in a final retreat in which all gather and get to know one another as an intimate community, sharing in presentations of their work for three days, before finally being ordained on the fourth day.