On April 22, over 100 people from the Oneonta community gathered for an interfaith event dedicated to American principles of democracy and religious freedom. The theme of the event was the repudiation of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but more importantly honoring America’s legacy of religious inclusion. Our guest speakers included Father David Mickiewicz (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), Rev. Craig Schwalenberg (UUSO), Rev. Phil Young (First United Methodist Church, filling in for Rev. Sivers), Mayor Rashid Clark (Islamberg), Dr. Ashok Malhotra (Hinduism), Mr. Asif Syed (Islam), Ani Samten (Tibetan Buddhism), Rabbi Molly Karp, Regina Betts (NAACP), and Mayor Gary Herzig of Oneonta. We enjoyed interesting speeches, great music, and engaging conversations with coffee and dessert.
These are my remarks from April’s Interfaith event:
“With apologies and thanks to Martin Neimoller:
First they came for the Yazidis, but I was not a Yazidi, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Christians, but I was not a Christian, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Tibetans, but I was not a Tibetan, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak.
The center of the Torah, the heart of the book of Leviticus, is known as the Holiness Code. In that code we find one of the most important statements of Judaism. Indeed, an idea of the golden rule can be found in virtually all world religions. Leviticus 19:18 states that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The way that this is traditionally understood is that we should love our neighbor as much as, or in the same way that, we love ourselves. This interpretation compels us to treat each other with the same love, kindness, dignity and respect that we afford ourselves.
I would like to propose an additional way to read the verse. While the words surely can be read as meaning that I should love my neighbor who is like myself, I suggest that we broaden our understanding of it and say, I should love my neighbor, even the one who is not like myself, who is different than me.
This month Jews around the world celebrated Passover, one of the foundational events of the People of Israel. The book of Exodus depicts the story of the ancient Israelites’ bondage in the land of Egypt and their liberation from that bondage to serve God in the wilderness. Of all of the stories in the Torah, this is one of the most important in the Jewish sacred narrative. The words: “because you were slaves in the land of Egypt” underpin many of the commandments that the Torah gives us, as we read in the book of Exodus: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22)
It is often said that Jews have a blessing for everything. In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” which depicts Jewish life in Tzarist Russia, the townspeople are asking the rabbi about various blessings. The rabbi of course has a wise answer for every question, until, finally, one of the people asks “Rabbi, is there a blessing for the Czar?”. The Rabbi takes a moment to think, and finally, smiling, says, “Well of course! May God bless and keep the Czar far away from us!”
In the Talmud, (Ta’anit 20a) there is a story about Rabbi Elazar the son of Shimon:
It once happened that R. Elazar son of R. Shimon was coming from the tower of Gador from the house of his teacher. And he was riding on a donkey and meandering by the river bank. And he was very happy and his mind was full of himself because he had learned a lot of Torah.
A man happened upon him who was very ugly. He said to R. Elazar, “Peace upon you master.” R. Elazar did not respond to him. R. Elazar said to him, “Good for nothing! How ugly is this man! Perhaps all of the people of your town are ugly like you?” The ugly man said to him, “I do not know, rather go and tell the artist who made me “how ugly is this vessel which you have made.””
Elazar knew that he had sinned. He got down from his donkey and fell before him and said to the ugly man, “I lower myself before you, forgive me.” The ugly man said to him “I will not forgive you until you go to the artist who made me and say to him “how ugly is this vessel you have created.””
There is a wonderful Jewish blessing that I would like to share with you. This is a blessing that we say when we see someone of unusual form, someone who is different from ourselves. The blessing is “Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates a variety of creatures.” This is one of the Jewish ways of acknowledging that we are all made in the Divine Image, just as it says in the book of Genesis.
United together as one community, as diverse products of creation, we are not strangers to each other. We are brothers and sisters, members of a rainbow of faith communities, sharing a variety of beliefs, including the freedom not to believe. Our ancestors came from all over the world to worship freely, or freely choose not to worship. This is the principle on which America was founded. By embracing that principle, together, we strengthen America, making it a country of which we can continue to be proud.
A member of the tribe, Emma Lazarus, composed the poem that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. It seems fitting to read that poem now:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Today we are assembled as a community to affirm America’s principles of democracy and freedom. United against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and religious intolerance in New York and across the United States, we affirm compassion and community for people of all faiths. Together we are stronger. Together we stand and say NOT Here!
United together, ourselves the children of immigrants, let’s be agents for love in America. Let’s look for opportunities to enact and embody the fundamental values of welcoming the stranger, caring for the weakest members of our society, and treating all humanity as created in God’s image. An America that is a place of compassion and caring for all in our country, and for all who are fleeing for their lives from countries where war is wreaking havoc on families and children, can only be a force for good in the world. Let’s be forces for love in the world, not agents of fear.”
Mussar continues to be the topic of our Saturday Lunch and Learn sessions. This practice helps us to be the best versions of ourselves and become more of the solution to a troubled world. Please do consider joining the group. Lunch and Learn meets on Saturday May 6th and 20th at noon. Please bring a non-meat, non-shellfish dish for yourself or to share. Email me to receive the handouts in advance.
Torah Study meets on Saturday May 6th and 20th. Coffee and Schmooze starts at 9:00 am; we begin our studies at 9:30 am. Shabbat Services take place on May 5th at 7:30 PM, and at 6:00 PM on May 19th, followed by our monthly potluck dinner at 7:00 PM. We are in need of more “potluck people” to participate in set-up and clean-up. Please let Ken know if you can participate.
As always, you can reach me with questions and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from or seeing you soon!!
Kol tuv (wishing you all goodness),
Rabbi Molly Karp