Even during times that are trying, inspiration abounds. Last month, I had the honor of attending a talk by the gifted scholar Eboo Patel sponsored by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. I was moved by Eboo’s message and was proud that 8 members of Beth Chaim were on hand to hear this incredible speaker.
Eboo Patel is the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization which inspired the Interfaith Center of Greater Philly to establish the Walking the Walk Youth fellowship, through which our Beth Chaim teens meet other Jewish, Bahai, Christian, Quaker, Muslim or teens from other religious traditions and bridge difference through face to face discussion, service, and experience.
Eboo spoke to the challenges our community faces today, a rise in antisemetic attacks, obstacles to racial justice, Islamaphobia, and gave us a reality check. He reminded us that the United States is likely the most religiously diverse civilization to ever exist in human kind. He also pointed out that we are amongst the most religiously devout nations in the Western Hemisphere. With these two challenging features, it is no wonder it is difficult to nurture a healthy and religiously diverse democracy.
I am proud that Beth Chaim is a place were we ask ourselves difficult questions. We understand that Judaism is not only about ritual concerns but about the fierce urgency of now. We have inherited a tradition that implores us to welcome the stranger. How might we create relationships both in our own synagogue and beyond our walls to help to bridge the many divides that persist? Those behind the recent antiSemitic attacks want us to become angry and frightened, to isolate ourselves. But we will not let hatred drive us inward, for we are the inheritors of a religious tradition that demands that we extend our tent pegs. And of course, we are blessed to live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was envisioned by William Penn as a place to embrace religious freedom.
The day after Eboo’s talk, I was honored to speak on the steps of the historic Chester County Courthouse during a vigil organized by the Chester County Kehillah/Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia (see image above). Behind me were 30 members of the clergy from many different faith traditions. In front, I had the blessing of seeing so many members of Beth Chaim surrounded by community members of a dazzling array of faiths.
Marilynne Robinson writes that, “Democracy, in its essence and genius is imaginative love for an identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement.” We may not agree with our neighbors on everything, but with many we share the commandment to build bridges of love. There is strength and communion in that common purpose. We have needed strengthening these past weeks, and it has been powerful that so many have stepped forward to stand with us against hate of any kind. May our interfaith work go from strength to strength, especially in this challenging moment.