Community Issues

Interfaith, intercultural advocate finds a place to share and learn at Philosophers’ Cafés

Rebecca Gonzales-Tobias at a cafe in North Vancouver. Photo by Dale Northey.
October 01, 2012

By Amy Robertson

A North American trustee for the United Religions Initiative (URI), a global interfaith network, has found a group of like-minded people at SFU Continuing StudiesPhilosophers’ Cafés: like her, they’re curious, open-minded, and eager to share ideas.

Rebecca Gonzalez-Tobias has spent most of her adult life advocating for collaboration and understanding between people of different cultures and faiths.

“I believe that fostering relationships that hold a deep and abiding reverence for the other is the recipe for a successful society,” she says.

As a member of a dual-faith family, Tobias has long held this reverence. She learned from a young age that people are all part of one family—the human family.

Care for humanity is key

She shares a personal story that embodies this conviction: At 17, she boarded a bus in Israel to return to the kibbutz where she was studying and working. She was the only woman among a group of Israeli soldiers—and they welcomed her. Then an elderly Palestinian woman boarded the bus. Not finding a place to sit, the woman began to teeter—and none of the men moved to offer her a seat.

“They couldn’t see her humanity,” Tobias says.

Tobias rose and offered the woman her hand and her seat—and she’s remembered the old woman’s words of thanks ever since.

Today, through the URI, Tobias travels and researches global best practices for programming that fosters this respect for humanity. Allowing others to have their voices heard is paramount for her.

Upon moving to Vancouver, Tobias began searching for a group of like-minded people—she wanted a space where she could share her ideas and learn from others through dialogue.

Philosophers’ Cafés have provided exactly what she was looking for.

Cafés allow people’s voices to be heard

SFU Continuing Studies organizes the cafés, which are informal discussion groups that meet at libraries, cafés, and restaurants throughout Metro Vancouver. Each café has a set topic and a moderator—many are SFU faculty members. Thousands of different people meet to learn and share ideas at dozens of cafés throughout the year.

Tobias has been impressed by the breadth and scope of the subject matter that people discuss in the cafés, as well as the number of locations. “People all over Vancouver can have their voices heard,” she says.

A café on Utopia was particularly memorable for Tobias. She was able to share her thoughts about “reverence for the other” being a part of the ideal society—and then hear from 27 other people on the subject.

“Philosophers’ Café provides a town hall model where people can not only give, but take. I think it’s a vital part of civic life. That’s why I’d like to see it grow,” she says.

“I think everyone who comes to Philosophers’ Cafés wants to share good ideas from their life experiences—and knowledge is the first step toward change.”