“… when one of us is vulnerable or endangered, we are, in fact, all in danger.  We are charged to be our brother’s keeper.” 

While the year we leave behind was filled with both blessings and challenges, we enter the New Year of 5778 with fresh opportunities and perspectives.  Sadly, the past year revealed divisiveness prevalent in our world, even in places where we weren’t aware it existed.  Never has there been a greater need for exploring and embracing interfaith relations to develop connections and create safe places to understand each other and coexist. 

Growing up in New York City, I never felt like a minority as a white Jewish woman.  Stories and personal accounts as told by my parents and elders in my community of anti-Semitism always sounded like they had happened in a time far away.  The Holocaust was a part of my religious and secular education and I recall the phrase “Never Again”, yet I rarely saw acts of anti-Semitism play out in current events or on the local news. 

This year we have seen public policy shift with a Muslim travel ban and, more recently in the next state over, we witnessed White Supremacist groups and neo-Nazis organize and rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  In fact, we have seen a rise in terrorist attacks across the country and a well-documented increase in hate crimes right here in Montgomery County.  We have seen buildings defaced with Swastikas and hateful language like “Whites Only” posted in public spaces. Two years ago, we witnessed the slaying of parishioners praying at a Black Church in Charleston by the hand of a white Supremacist. 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe it is the year 2017.   

We come to realize that, when one of us is vulnerable or endangered, we are, in fact, all in danger.  We are charged to be our brother’s keeper.  Many of us hold prejudices and preconceptions.  Our lack of exposure to people of different faiths, races, and experiences limit our understanding. It us up to us to try to find new opportunities for connection.

In the past year, Temple Beth Ami has developed a strong relationship with our Muslim neighbors at the Islamic Center of Gaithersburg.  Large numbers of congregants gathered to visit the Islamic Center to engage in dialogue, and we hosted an event at TBA to explore the basic foundations of our faiths. 

Last Winter/Spring, I completed an online course, through American University and the Woolf Institute of Cambridge, on Jewish-Muslim Relations. It was an informative and eye-opening experience.   I look forward to sharing some of what I learned from the class and highlight some of the experiences I encountered with my peers.  Later this month, I will be offering a three week “Live and Learn” series called Bridging the Great Divide: The Jewish Muslim Encounter.  Join me on October 10, 17, and 24 (1030am-1200pm) when we will explore the culture and theology of Islam and Judaism, reflecting on similarities and differences as well as major challenges.  I am also delighted that my professor, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, will be joining us for a special Shabbat dinner lecture after “Spirit of Shabbat” services on Friday, October 20.  Ambassador Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland.  Ambassador Ahmed was named “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC.  Please don’t miss this opportunity to meet and learn from Ambassador Ahmed.

Last year, we also joined with our neighbors in service to one another.  It has been rewarding to watch our congregants connect with students at South Lake Elementary School—through the Arts and Crafts After School Program, through Mommy and Me classes, and through school supply, raincoat and food donation drives for the school children.  A few South Lake students even attended our Kayitz Camp this summer.  In August, I led, and many of you joined me in, “praying with our feet” by walking in the Thousand Minster’s March on Washington that marked the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.   Now, perhaps more than ever, we realize that much of his dream has not been fulfilled.  We marched from the MLK Memorial to the Department of Justice with clergy leaders of all faiths and races to stand in unity and speak out for justice. 

As we cycle into a new year, may we all commit to engage with our neighbors more, to bridge the rifts we know to be deeply entrenched across cultures, spark uncomfortable but safe conversation about the biases we have uncovered, and hope that with these actions, we bring down the walls that prevent us from understanding diverse perspectives.