Friday, February 16, 2018

Lessons from Baba Kamma: How Far Does Honesty and Integrity Go?

I have a dear friend who was a Prison Chaplain on the West Coast for many years. During his tenure he, a Rabbi ordained in the Conservative Movement would have among his prisoner populations self-proclaimed observant Jews, who were indeed such according to their appearance and an ongoing barrage of complaints and challenges regarding whether or not their needs as Halachically observant Jews were being met. Fair enough, well sort of… I remember one time, my friend shared with me a conversation he had during one of these challenging interactions (based on the fact that he as a Conservative ordained Rabbi could not possibly state positions indicating that needs were being met for matters such as the need to drink wine for Shabbat or Hagim, scheduling chores so that Shaharit – the morning prayers- could be said at precisely the right time, the correct Matbeah – order and cadence of prayers – was used and so on. In short, they just kept yanking his chain. One day he asked one of these pious observant Jews what they were in prison for – a fair question, to be sure. “Embezzlement,” the gentleman replied, “and that’s okay because its not forbidden in the Torah.” Enough said! First of all, do we really have to even go there – that embezzlement or any type of “creative financial management” of that sort is not robbery?

I have a wonderful jeweler/artisan named Lucy in my life, who makes a lot of custom jewelry for me. She is a lovely lady and it is always fun to have her make stones and pieces I have from past chapters of living come to life in a new and meaningful way. Once I brought her a very sizable stone of Eilat to take out of its silver base and put into a good gold one so I could give a nice gift of my mom’s jewelry to a cousin with whom I am very close and love dearly. The piece came out beautifully and I had told Lucy to keep the silver for something else she will do. I noticed when I picked up the piece, the silver framing was there. I reminded her that she could add it to her stockpile of supplies. Then she insisted on paying me for it. I refused and finally told her it was a very small gift – a token of my appreciation for all that she does.

This morning, I finished Masechet Baba Kamma, a Tractate of Talmud learning and want to share something from this learning as a mini-Siyyum. I am looking forward to a more official celebration of this Masechet and my learning of it in one of the shuls I go to in the near future. So you are now thinking, okay, Sunnie has lost it…. what in the world is she writing about? So I will share how this all connects, though my fellow Talmud learners are probably already there.

You see, so much of Jewish Law is about how we go in our daily lives, our actions, our interactions with others, the actual things we do, the intent with which we do them, and the outcomes of those actions, including the impact on others. The very word for Jewish Law is HALACHA, that is HOW WE GO or GOING.. that is going about the daily actions in which we are involved in a proper way.

So now, back to my two stories. First my friend the Rabbi who was a prison chaplain and his predicament! Embezzlement IS stealing… GENEIVAH. As Baba Kamma nears its end, very clear distinctions are made between stealing and robbing, with someone’s knowledge or without someone’s knowledge and the requirement to not only return the stolen goods but also to make right the wrong that was committed. These discussions are lengthy and take up so much of the Tractate which is 236 very long pages of discussion and qualifications and definitions and imagining various iterations of wrongdoing. Further, within these teachings, we learn about the incredible harm that such a lack of respect for the property of others does and that it can hedge on being similar to murder. Just think, for example, of all of the victims we know who lost their life savings to Bernie Madoff and his dishonest practices, while so many in the religious sectors of the Jewish community had sung his praises for being such a dedicated Jew for so long. Baba Kamma teaches that even if there is a hint that something could look like misappropriation of the funds or belongings of another, it is not to be done. While Jews often talk of a “fence around the Torah” when it comes to Shabbat, Kashrut and other ritual aspects of our lives (and remember, I guard all of these Mitzvot carefully), I wonder how many worry about this. Clearly not one who thinks that embezzlement is somehow okay. And yes, there is what to be concerned about whether we are dealing with those in our faith community as well as those outside of it. When we cheat or steal or take anything that is not ours, we DISHONOR GOD. Further, the text teaches that the one who steals LOSES HIS SOUL and in the end will not come to any good. Further, his own children and future generations may suffer.

And now back to my second story. Lucy is Asian and observes a different code of ethics and behaviors in terms of their source, but not so much in terms of their impact. Her persistent desire to return to me what was mine feels now like it comes right off of the last pages of this Tractate, which clearly stipulates how much an artisan who is contracted to make something for someone is entitled to keep as theirs and how much goes back to the owner of the material. Lucy was observing the “letter of this law” in her process and by gifting her in the end, I released her from her obligation to return what was mine. This is clearly spelled out in this text.

Baba Kamma is one of three tractates, along with Baba Metziah and Baba Batra about property law, about damages, about punishments and clearly proscribed limits to be placed on them – another lesson for contemporary society to consider – that are commensurate with the wrong done, and the notion that one must not only return stolen or ill-gotten goods but must also make the wrongdoing to the person who was affected right by their admission of their wrongdoing. There is so much else here but then this might go on and on… for 236 long pages and we would not want to do that, so I will end here and wish all a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Lent to my Christian friends, Happy Korean New Year to those watching the Olympics, and the wish that we all keep to the spirit of the laws to which we are accountable as much as the letter of the law. Be well, all!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Why Boxers Must Retire and Pride in the Philadelphia EAGLES!

Why Boxers Must Retire and Pride in the Philadelphia EAGLES! Okay, so the second part is obvious. It is indeed a wonderful time to be in Philadelphia. I have watched my entire family over the past decades REALLY WANT a winning team and now they and all of us have it. I love the positive energy and the excitement and the pride in this wonderful team of guys who have worked so well together to achieve what no one thought possible just six months ago. But there is another side that worries me.

Some years back, I met a boxer. I mean a REAL boxer with big flashy championship belts and everything. WORLD CLASS! A really nice guy and kind of fun to hang out with, not to mention quite different from the circles of people I normally know and have contact with.

I noticed right off the bat that he was a bit sluggish in his speech and had a distant cast to the look in his eyes. Now this guy was the one whose hand was raised and everyone cheered. But he had his share of punches and jabs to the head through his years of boxing. And I must say, it showed and definitely had an impact on the quality of life at the point I met him. This seems all the more poignant and reason to give pause as we all know that we are hearing more and more in the news and in various sources about the down side of these sports – the lost lives, the ruined lives, the lesser quality of life. How do we square the elation that is presently going on in my city with this reality that is so much a by-product of this sport that engenders this excitement. More and more parents DO NOT WANT their children to play or be involved in these sports that have such a high degree of potential harm.

I remember thinking about this at one point during the Super Bowl when a player from the New England Patriots seemed to be disoriented during the game and began going around in circles (I think his last name is Cooks). He was struck when he ran into the helmet of another player and then taken off the field. What is going on in his head and how will he be in ten or twenty years? I wonder.

Years ago, I met a former Philadelphia Eagle in an airport when I was traveling for work. We sat and chatted as random travelers often do. No, as my family clearly indicated their disappointment in me, I did not get his name and definitely did not ask for an autograph. But he talked a good deal about how the game has changed so much and become less sport and more something else – entertainment, business, money maker – and not for the good of the players, who now may themselves have different reasons that motivate them to play. He bemoaned the fact that more injuries are overshadowing the pleasure of the game and that these injuries can bring long lasting effects diminishing one’s quality of life. I asked him if other players from his era felt the same way and he indicated that yes, many he knew did. Definitely a sobering conversation and this may have something to do with why I do not really enjoy watching sports where there is a real potential for such devastating harm.

But, I did watch the Super Bowl and cheer like crazy with our friends as the game progressed, and shared the nervous feeling in the room when it was possible that there was going to be another outcome. We cheered and yelled at the end and it was pure elation. Pride in feeling part of this country, our city and so much else! Proud of the humility and the gratitude and the feeling of God’s presence as indicated by so many players and coaches when they spoke! And then I wondered about these guys and the impact this game that they love so much and to which they have such loyalty is being kind or cruel to them.

I know there is great discussion about this in many circles. I do not know where it will lead. I do hope however that we all remember that behind all of the pageantry and excitement, there are human beings and somehow we need to show concern for them and their future. How do we walk that balance beam? How many of us even think about it?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


The Pope says it. Many Rabbis for whom I have great respect and regard say it and often! Many ministers and Imams and various clergy and religious people within many different traditions claim and live it. We need to be in both worlds – the world of our faith and the world of our daily dealings and each should inform and be informed by the other. This is the only way this religion thing will work constructively. Clearly, that is why Jews have tomes and tomes of text explaining what it is exactly that the Torah says and how we are to apply it in our lives. Acknowledged are the dynamics that there are often conflicting issues and dynamics and that a standard that will work in one context is not the one to apply in another context even though they may look similar – the difference is definitely determined by the details – requiring an equal dose of knowledge of the world that is as well as the religious standards by which one lives. It is ONLY at this intersection that Jewish law or Halacha is crafted and intended to be practiced.

Throughout my career I have focused on bringing together the texts and teachings of my religious heritage (as well as others that I find so instructive and inspiring), the critical issues of the day, and the learners in the room. This is how our lives, as people of faith and observance, are meant to be lived. In my daily learning of Gemara, this is reinforced. Recently as I am in the middle of Baba Kamma, I came across the following statement that would challenge that sentiment:

"But is learning Greek wisdom really prohibited? ... Shmuel stated in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, “I can apply this to what I saw myself. A thousand young men were in the household of mu father. Five hundred of them studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and no one remains from this second group except for myself and my cousin ….The members of Rabban Gamliel’s household were different in that they spoke the language and learned Greek wisdom, for they were close to the Roman monarchy.” [Baba Kamma 82b - 83a]

I am well aware of those in the more right pitched part of the Orthodox Jewish community who do not value nor pursue secular (or general) fields of knowledge. It would appear that here they have strong support for that position and in other such statements of a seemingly similar sentiment, which do exist. Further, one could (and many do) make the case that this would bolster the position of those in this same part of the Orthodox Jewish world who aschew any contact with the outside world in a meaningful way or any steps that would take them away from Torah, so to speak. There are similar groups with similar reasons in other religious groupings as well.

So how do I reconcile this seeming validation for such a closed worldview with the intellectual and sophisticated stance I so often find in the Gemara and other Jewish texts. I go to context and look at the larger text within which such statements appear; which is really the only way to understand them and their intended message. In this case, my comfort is found in the last statement about proximity, physically and culturally, and in so many ways to the Roman monarchy. The students and members of Rabban Gamliel did NOT live in isolation in their closed monochromatic village, but were part of the larger world. It was in that context that this knowledge was sought, needed and valuable. In fact, it was Rabban Gamliel in Maseches Rosh Hashanah 2:8, who had the charts of phases of the moon in his upper office which would be used to help the witnesses who would proclaim the New Moon for the community. Rabban Gamliel knew well that he and all those he influenced had to be part of both the secular world of living and the Jewish world of observance; and that it was only in bringing these two together in a symbiotic interaction that each would be actualized in daily life. This was particularly critical in understanding the science of the phases of the moon as this was, you will remember, before printed calendars, and communities depended on this information for the very rhythm of their lives.

I watch and am continually honored and heartened to hear, many years after our shared learning experience, students of mine report that they are following this formula daily in their lives. My own children honor and awe me daily as they bring their Jewish knowledge and foundational values to their work, community involvements and all that they do to try to make our world a better, kinder place. Doctors, lawyers, community organizers, educators, business people and all of us are concerned today about the state of our secular world. In response, there are too many in the more closed and isolated parts of our religious spectrum who will say, “See, the students who dabble in secular knowledge are only going to destroy or be destroyed,” echoing what they might want to read into this text from Baba Kamma. Yet, my contention is that it is precisely these people who can bring so much healing and good energy to our fractured world. Further, those who feel an obligation or responsibility to do so will indeed make a profound difference. This is what I believe Rabban Gamliel understood and why he approved of such a bringing together of the secular and the religious.

In the Jewish cycle of Torah readings we finished several weeks ago reading about Yoseph (Joseph) who did precisely that in his role as Viceroy of Egypt and simultaneously bringing his family back together, insuring the continuation of the Jewish nation as he did so. Some of his actions are questioned and reasonably so, but what is one of the most important takeaways from this narrative is his bringing together these two worlds within the reality of his life. Then we moved on to the narrative of Moshe (Moses), who clearly brought together his Jewish sensibilities and what he had learned due to his proximity to, actually privileged residence, in the Egyptian world. Today, think of the many leaders in our world who are speaking out from a profound sense of this interfacing of the secular and the religious and compare them to those who would separate these two spheres, focusing excessively on the one or the other.

In Yoma 72b we read as follows: "If one is deserving, [the Torah] becomes for him an elixir of life; if undeserving, a deadly poison." As I often write in this blog and in so many other places, this is a matter of balance. Our bodies need our souls, we are better with our partners and friends in life than alone, we accomplish so much more together than separate. It is no different with our knowledge from these two spheres. This was understood by our teachers of the Mishnah and Gemara and so many others to come. This is the beauty of Jewish knowledge. Remember that much more of the Talmud and so many sources of Jewish law are precisely about how we live our lives day to day than our ritual practice. What does that tell us? It confirms what the Pope, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and so many teachers of so many faith communities confirm and teach today – that the purpose of religious teaching is not to scare us into hiding, but rather to help us bolster and make our world a better and more reasonable place for all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


I loved watching the Golden Globes last Sunday because, though I never know many (as in only one or two) of the shows or movies being honored, I love watching everyone celebrate. And this celebration was particularly poignant, celebrating real and true stories that we do not like to tell – stories of abuse, of not seeing and acknowledging the other, of dismissing those not like us and so on. ME TOO and TIME’S UP ruled the night. So I would like to build on this theme and challenge all of us to expand that notion a bit.

Sexual harassment and abuse is horrible and racial profiling should no longer be tolerated and speaking before one thinks, maligning whole groups of people is unforgiveable. That being said there are other stories we must tell, that may exist on the sidelines even more so than discussed that evening.

What if you don’t look like everyone else or the way other people think you should? True story. During my college years at a well-known and well-reputed University, I had a professor who clearly did not like me. This educated and respected person made no secret that he found me to be not to his liking and he was rather disturbed that I even had the temerity to take his high level course. He used the power of grades to communicate this to me. Nothing I would do was ever good enough or thoughtful enough or intelligent enough. I had a good friend in the course, whom I often sat next to that was just his type of person. So one day, my friend and I conducted an experiment, as everyone else in the room well knew what was going on. I did not open my mouth, but rather wrote down my observations and what I wanted to say. She saw my comments and made them as her own. As always, she was brilliant; so either I had an uncharacteristically good day or we caught him. For fun at the end of the class, she wrote something down and I made the comment. Dumb and dismissed as always, I received the characteristic exasperated reaction from the professor. I guess she was just having an off day as I had had a good one! Some time later, another professional at the University asked me what the deal was with Professor X. I asked why and his reply was, “He came into my office and asked what the hell that damn JAP was doing in his class.” So, I was being abused and dismissed because of the way I dressed and not conforming to the hippy dippy preferences of this professor in the mid seventies. Does that count so I get to say ME TOO and TIME’S UP?

What if you are a woman who is religiously observant, well-educated and professional and believe fervently in reaching across every aisle to show respect and regard for all others? Some experiences. For many years, I have been and continue to be subject to prejudices because of my level of observance on the left side of the continuum of identity in the Jewish community and maligned as “controversial” on the right side. I have suffered professionally, being closed out of one institution in which I was heavily invested for 20 years, subjected to inappropriate comments by male colleagues (e.g. “That is some skirt.” Or “How can you be religious – that makes you a hypocrite and a bigot.”), and literally fired from one position for the reason that I was “too religiously observant and not a good role model” when I was observing to the same degree as others in the community. In the last instance, I was physically attacked by a woman lay leader, suffered as a result and then could not take legal recourse, because it was a Jewish organization. Had it been non-Jewish, I would have been able to address the situation legally. I have also been accused through the years of giving too young of an appearance, another non-starter legally when it happened because ageism only worked decades ago when this happened if you were cast aside for being too old, not for looking too young. There are other instances, including conferences I go to and have to make overtures to people who do not want to interact with me because it is obvious that I am religiously observant. Too many times, I have heard “You are not like any other Orthodox Jewish person I have met.” I think we all need to widen our understanding of who people are and NOT make snap judgments based on appearances, affiliations and such. Because of the intersection of my religious identity and values I hold to be dear and foundational, I have lived my entire life as a religiously observant Jewish woman who works for conversation, understanding, acceptance, and dialogue across the Jewish spectrum, among various faith communities and for all of humanity. Does that count so I get to say ME TOO and TIME’S UP?

Strange enough, it’s the younger generation – my kids’ generation who often “gets me” more than my chronological peers. Maybe this idea of being “fluid” and accepting and welcoming is something all could learn from our new generation of budding leaders and promising “rock stars” in all corridors of our lives. I do feel respected and honored in an appropriate way from these wonderful adults and do believe that those of us who have gone through too many generations of not enough acceptance of each other have much to learn from our younger colleagues. Then, I think that what a very smart woman said the night of the Golden Globes may ring true – the day will come, G-d willing (my addition) that we will not have to raise our hands and voices and say ME TOO and TIME’S UP but we will look before we speak, not judge based on what we think is right and open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to what we can all teach and learn from each other.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Back in History Class – Or Going to the Movies -- A Personal Educational Resolution for 2018

So, here is how it all began for me. The night of the Academy Awards in the winter of 2011, my husband Ken and I realized we had not seen one single movie nominated or any movie for that matter for several years … Not in the movie theatres anyway. So, instead of watching a competition where we did not know anything about the competitors, we decided to go to the movies. As The King’s Speech was announced as the best movie of the year, we were watching the credits at the end of the movie roll by. Then I came home and googled the “true story,” and proceeded to learn all about King George VI, Elizabeth, the time of his reign, the abdication of his brother and so much else. I was fascinated and a little bit hooked on the pageantry, expanse, and details of the history of the British Empire. I am sure that the actual facts and figures must have been included in one or more of my high school and early college years of World History, but too long has passed and too much has been forgotten.

Fast forward about six years from that night at the movies! A few weeks ago, I am surfing the channels and movies on the various systems on our television trying to find something to watch and I come across The Young Victoria, the story of a teenager who becomes Queen of the same British Empire, this occurring in 1837. Her life pre-dates that of the story of The King’s Speech, and once again I consulted Ms. Google, my consistently reliable research assistant, to find out more about those chapters of history and the degree to which the movie depiction was valid. Another set of history classes into the wee hours of the morning. I was hooked.

So I have officially (for now) put aside my real television addiction of Law and Order (by the way, I am amazed that there are still segments I have not yet seen and am not even quite sure how this is possible) and began to look for these adaptations of chapters of history. After all, true stories retold seem to be the order of the day in our entertainment industry; and let’s face it, its much more colorful and engaging than pages and pages of dates and events that ended with tests in those long ago classes of dates and the order of events – something I always found a struggle to do successfully. I land on Viceroy’s House, the story of Lord Montbatten, the last official British official steward of India invested in handing back India and ultimately turning it over to its people as two units and separate countries, India and Pakistan. The attraction and interest was immediate, as I have long studied and been aware of many pieces of the story of the British Mandate and its aftermath in Israel/Palestine; and knew about the shared angsts and challenges in these two situations. So there we are in the landscape of 1947 India looking at religious strife, the fractured relationships between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and I am thinking, right, I saw this not so long ago in the movie, also based on a true story within the context of historical reality, Lion. The latter movie unveils a narrative of years after the former, but as those of us so connected to Israel know very well, when the war ends, the battle continues, so to speak, and it was just too easy and obvious to make so many comparisons. Another late night with my research assistant and her vast library of papers, tomes of chapters and the choices of narratives to further my understanding of the history I was presently devoted to learning about.

So yesterday, as 2018 dawned and we shared its first day together, Ken and I once again went television channel surfing and landed on The Crown. I feel like I have done well in the pre-requisites and am now well prepared for this longer and more involved history of Queen Elizabeth II, also coming to the throne at a ridiculously young age, as a result of the death of her father, King George VI of The King’s Speech. We actually binged – I think watching the first five episodes of the first season justifies my use of that word! I look forward to my continued education of this era and more insight into the might of The British Empire that left so many conflicts in its rear view mirror as decisions were made to leave areas under its control.

So while I never thought of New Year’s Resolutions per se, it appears that I have made one – to go back and relearn and reconsider various chapters of history that are part of the world community to which we belong. Learning these chapters is so important in that they are part of our shared heritage and help us better understand the conflicts, historical differences, unresolved hurts and all of the other elements that go into making us who we are as individuals, members of our community and citizens of the world. I have also reintroduced myself to the educational value of my visual technology (television) as providing me with wonderful narratives and stories in which to feel invested and then inspired to learn more. Okay, so back to The Crown. It is now Thursday and three days since our initial binge. I have to return to class – a nice balance of seeing the people, colors and scenes of long ago and then going to the pages of information that explain them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Is It Me or Is Israel Calmer These Days?

My husband Ken and I just came back from Israel. It was too short of a time – only one week — but really quite wonderful. We spend time in Tel Aviv, Acco, Ginot Shomron and Jerusalem. In all of these cities as well as at the Ben Gurion airport, I noticed a calm that was so wonderful and encouraging. Perhaps, in terms of context, it was as a result of feeling the conflicted, fractured and difficult environment that I presently find in the United States. And yet, people still ask me, “Did you feel safe?” My answer is as close to an unequivocal YES as one can give in our world of today. It was comforting to walk through the old city, through the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Acco and see all of the Christians, Jews, Armenians, Muslims, people of different racial and ethnic groupings and just all doing whatever they were doing. This is much more often my experience of Israel than is the case for many who think about what goes on in this land, I believe. That is because I trust my surroundings and feel a kinship to other garbs indicating faith, not fear because of them or any need to retreat to horrible stereotypes.

I believe in this calm and in the many, many thousands of people that make it happen daily in so many dedicated efforts, programs and initiatives. In Israel, I know that there are indeed concerns about safety and security as there are in the rest of the world; but to be honest many of us who are often there tell stories of walking around all hours of the night, of sending our children off to play, and of so many markers of feeling that one is indeed safe and can have confidence in the other people with whom they come in contact in the vast majority of cases. To be sure, there are instances that do not support this sense, but coming back to the United States and to Philadelphia and seeing the news that now plays 24/7 here, is that sense really so strong in this country at this point in time?

I loved watching Muslim women shopping for clothes in Mamilla Mall, the throngs of people meandering through the streets of the Arab market and then through the Armenian and Christian quarters as well as the Jewish Quarter of the old city, and learning about the shared chapters of history and dynamics of the land as told through the stones of Acco and the narrated accounts of its sights. Learning about the music from so many lands in the new Kikar HaMusica (Music Courtyard) in Jerusalem off of Yoel Solomon again confirmed my sense that we as human beings share so much in terms of wanting to express ourselves and use our creativity. I always see this in the art, dance, music, theatre and so much else that Israel has to offer. I will parenthetically state that there were way too many tattoos in Tel Aviv that brought me up short, but apparently this is part of the scene there; who knew? Simultaneously, I noted there was less smoking, something I think that is a sort of unofficial barometer of the sense of calm or degree of stress at present in Israel. People were chatty, storekeepers sociable, and even the traffic seemed to be somewhat civil. I actually enjoyed being at the Kotel for the first time in what feels like decades.

There are certainly stark realities that confront you as well. Watching the lines of cars while we were waved through checkpoints was difficult, though I must state that we were stopped at one of the checkpoints and our car and its contents were checked. Driving through the countryside in our rented car or on our beautiful train trip from Tel Aviv to Acco, one could see some of the visibly depressed areas and these were difficult to consider. Yes, Israel is not all rosy and beautiful – it is a real country with beautiful aspects and challenging issues. It struggles with its dual identity as a Jewish nation and as a democratic state. Israel is challenged by different people, with their respective narratives, and claims to its soil. And of course, while these larger challenges loom, there are always those individuals who will act inappropriately and pose dangerous threats, thwarting the possibilities of what could be in this already amazing place. The important thing is to not allow these individual antagonists any more power when we consider Israel than one would when considering all that is good about the United States, while acknowledging our challenges alongside individuals and their aberrant behavior.

About a year ago, I ran a program for the Multi-Faith Council in which I am involved, called Israel: So Many Stories of Cooperation. It focused on those hundreds of thousands of people who are playing sports together across national, ethnic and religious lines; circus troupes that bring people together from those same groupings; cities of cooperation; organizations dedicated to environmental sustainability that involve all people and groups; cooperative medical ventures; a wonderful school system for Israeli and Arab students and their families; theatre groups that are sharing the narratives of so many different groups in Israel and so much else. I began the program by suggesting that all of the people in the room who were reeling as a result of what has been going on in this country take a few hours off from our reality and consider a much more peaceful and calm part of the world -- Israel with its Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Palestinian, Bahai, Buddhist, many nationalities, and its population that IS DIVERSITY of the highest degree. Israel cannot escape this diversity and the many claims on its soul to be what so many different people need.

Maybe at this point in time, people in the United States are feeling just a bit of this as we are being brought up short to acknowledge the different populations in this country and the need to interact with each other and heal the many deep rifts that come from not acknowledging each other. Maybe, just maybe, Israel has a thing or two to teach us about this and we, too, can hope to reclaim some calm in our lives.

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Amazing Morning and Why Interfaith Discussions are Grand

As you must know by now if you have been reading my blog, I am a big fan, make that HUGE fan of Interfaith and Multi-Faith interactions and discussions -- not debates, not yelling matches, but deep and honest and caring and respectful sharing. Yesterday morning was such a wonderful experience and reinforced for me what I always know in my heart to be true – that we are all part of one big family and as one participant in the program I was privileged to be part of put it, we need to have our “family reunions.” And I maintain that we can’t have them often enough.

We have been trying for some time through the Cheltenham Area Multi-Faith Council for which I am honored to serve as co-President (in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia) to have a get- together at the Masjidullah (Mosque of Allah) that is in our area and to reinforce earlier interactions with our Muslim brothers and sisters in faith as well as hopefully expand and increase our ongoing relationship with them. The first thing I must mention as about 30 of us sat down together in fellowship and to share our stories was the incredible hospitality that was extended to the members of the Multi-Faith Council as the members of the Masjidullah proceeded to feed our bodies, our souls and our minds with the beauty of the faith that is so central to their being and the community in which that faith is actualized. The history of this particular community is incredibly rich and meaningful as they shared amazing stories from the past 60 years or so of their journey as Muslims and as African Americans moving through the many chapters of the history of this country, experiencing so many emotions and changes in their situation. I really hope that someone or a group of them sit down and put this information in a book because their narrative is so incredibly full, and the legacy formulated by these experiences must be preserved.

Around the table we represented a variety of ethnicities, religious groupings, national identities and so much else, but as was repeatedly stated, we are all part of the family that began with Adam and Eve. Throughout the time we were together there was a great deal of honest intentional listening and deepening of understanding. We learned and celebrated our many similarities while honoring and respecting our differences. I was particularly touched that the Imam and those who planned the day not only provided us with a beautiful lunch, but also insured it was kosher so that all could partake.

As one member of the Masjidullah began the morning by explaining why Philadelphia is the #12 Muslim community in the United States, he shared that it was connected to numerology – the many different ways in which the number 12 came up in names, counts, etc. Dr. Ruth Sandberg, my amazing co-President and the only other Jewish person in the gathering, and I looked at each other and began to laugh – who knew we were coming to a Muslim space to learn about gematria!?!

We shared our connections to God, our perceptions about the prophets, the various similarities in our prayer practices as well as points of differentiation. And most important the Christians and Jews in the room learned about the special nature of this Muslim community of #12 Philadelphia origins. What a legacy that included the likes of Mohammed Ali, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others! We were given a wonderful insight into what becoming Muslim meant to those who had converted at some point in their lives and their very intentional practice of their faith. This is something I always want to bottle and spread around to those who do not think that deeply about who they are as people of faith for a variety of reasons, often perhaps, because they never had to consider that. This resonates for me when I work with and interact with potential converts on their journey to an Orthodox Jewish conversion.

Intentionality, trust and understanding – that was what was exuded by all in this wonderful circle of sharing and learning! I so look forward to when we all meet again, and I know we will because we will all be intentional about making that happen! I know that God in all the different iterations of how we relate to The Divine One is smiling and saying, “Yes, this is what I want for my children – ALL of my children! Get to know each other and how wonderful you all are!”