Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Challenge of Interfaith Relations in a Time of Terror

Last night, I had the privilege of attending and participating in a discussion at the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor. The title of the conversation was “Positive Reactions to Islamaphobia”. The community was invited to attend and to share thoughts about the growing persecution of Muslims in this country and the fear that many are feeling especially in light of the murders in North Carolina last week.(The entire story about these murders has not been uncovered. It is not known whether and to what degree the fact that the victims were Muslims motivated the killer but clearly this and other incidents do cause great concern among Muslims in the United States.)

When I first heard of this story, I sent an email to a Muslim woman who is on the board of the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County and expressed my condolences and concern. The email was shared with the community and was greatly appreciated and I was glad to be able to attend last night’s meeting.

The meeting was attended by a large number of members of the Muslim community and several clergy and others from religious communities throughout Ann Arbor. The head of outreach for the mosque, who moderated the discussion, announced the center’s intention to communicate better what Islam stands for through a series of educational programs open to the community. Then,  a microphone was passed around to those in attendance who wished to share some thoughts.

I expressed to the gathered audience my concern for the safety and security of Muslims here in Ann Arbor and throughout the country and I pledged our congregation’s support for their community and thanked them for the opportunity to attend.  But, I also put it into a context, reminding everyone of our deep concern for our brothers and sisters who are suffering from anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and even in the US. I said that we needed all people of faith to stand up for our people in danger just as we recognize our responsibility to protect everyone in this country and to work to rid this world of persecution against people based on religion.

I am quite sure that I speak for all non-Muslims in attendance when I say that we were waiting for a strong statement against terror and it did come. One member of the mosque spoke clearly, eloquently and without equivocation or hesitation to condemn those who, in the name of Islam, commit acts of terror and violence, specifically mentioning the beheading and burning of those of other faiths which are taking place in the Middle East. This man left no question in anyone’s mind that   the Muslim community recognizes the horrors of what ISIS and other groups are doing and he made it absolutely clear by quoting the Koran that Islam respects those of all faiths who believe in God.

One person does not speak for the entire Muslim people any more than one person speaks for all Jews. But, his passionate words were important for all of us to hear.

We live in very difficult times. But, for one evening, there was a face to face opportunity to listen to the concerns of a community and to share our hope for mutual respect and mutual concern. It wasn’t a night brimming with idealistic, naive hope. It was, however, a start,  a moment in which people of different faiths pledged to care about each other.

Although our first concern is the fate of our brothers and sisters here, in Europe and throughout the world, we can not go on this path alone. We need others to be concerned for our people just as we must be concerned for others. My hope for our community, for our nation and our world is that we will always stand up for each other and I was proud to express that hope and that promise publicly last evening.



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He Does Not Speak for Me

As the controversy continues to rage about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned speech before Congress, I feel compelled to say it clearly. Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s claim that he speaks for the entire Jewish people; he does not speak for me. I say this for three reasons. First, I say it because I do not agree with many of the Prime Minister’s positions. I’m not going to argue that Iran’s nuclear capability is not a threat to Israel. It potentially is a threat and he may be correct that sanctions and more are needed to insure Israel’s survival. But, putting the Iran issue into the context of the entire set of positions which Prime Minister Netanyahu holds and the actions of his government concerning the settlements, the lack of movement on a peace process (for which blame also lies with the Palestinian leadership), the treatment of asylum seekers and other issues he does not speak for me. He also does not speak for me when he arranges, without clear communication with the President, to speak to Congress two weeks before the Israeli election. This was an insult to our political system and the office of the Presidency. As I see it, it was an attempt by Speaker Boehner to recast support for Israel as a partisan issue, pitting Republicans against Democrats and trying to pander to American Jews. In addition, the timing is inappropriate. I do not want the Israeli prime minister to speak before Congress so close to the election to attempt to impress Israeli votes and to sway congress to his position. And, certainly not in the case where the invitation came from one political party. Finally, I do not believe that any one individual, not even the Prime Minister of Israel,  can speak for the Jewish people. When I stand up to speak before a non-Jewish audience, I always say that I’m not speaking for all Jews, nor for all conservative Jews, nor for all the members of my congregation. I am sharing one particular perspective: my perspective. That is what Judaism is as a religious faith. No one speaks for all Jews. And, what is true in our religious life ought to be true in our political life as well. We should all proudly identify with the state of Israel and passionately work for its survival and security. We should be profoundly thankful that we have a state. But, the prime minister of Israel is not the Chief Rabbi for all Jews. He is an elected official who will either be reelected or voted out of office next month. He is to be respected for his position and the difficulty of his task. But, he doesn’t speak for every Jew. And, in this case, he certainly does not speak for me.

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