There is new, exciting Interfaith work going on all around us. The new Interfaith transcends social and economic class. It allows us to escape our bubble of safety and push beyond our social comfort zone. When a suburban rabbi and a suburban priest meet, that is a good thing. When a suburban rabbi meets with middle aged, inner city Christian women of color, the magic of Interfaith unfolds.
The story of the Jewish people began when an Egyptian prince ventured unaccompanied outside the palace. He happened upon the brutal working conditions of laborers. Seeing the gross mistreatment of the slaves, he intervened. By standing with the slaves, he renounced his former life at the pinnacle of society. No longer a prince, he had no place in society. In the moment of taking action, the prince stepped across the line of propriety and legality.The former prince fled to the wilderness as an outlaw. He later returned to the palace to confront his father and free the slaves.
The name of that prince was Moshe Rabeinu, Moses the Lawgiver, the father of the Jewish people.
As a middle class Jew in the United States, I am neither as privileged as Prince Moses nor am I called to sacrifice nearly as much. In fact, it doesn’t take much at all to stand in solidarity with the laborers who do the menial work in society.
For three years, I worked on the Hyatt campaign. Clergy of different faiths across the country rallied on behalf of the workers. We were there allies as the workers struggled and took courageous stands. I was inspired by their loyalty to each other as they moved towards winning a fair contract. I was fortunate to interview workers here in Chicago and edit a report into worker conditions. I led a delegation of rabbis and pastors in a meeting with Hyatt Corp’s Senior HR Executive and co-led with a Catholic priest a flashmob in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel.
My work with the Hyatt workers was personally rewarding. It expanded my circle of relationships. Sitting with the workers in the hotel cafeteria, I listened as they told their stories. Almost immediately, I noticed that the usual barriers of suspicion between us as people of different backgrounds melt away. Surprisingly perhaps, it didn’t take much on my part. Just acting in solidarity with others who have asked for our help can and does open hearts to each other.
As a Jew, and former Israeli, my prayers for the world’s redemption center on my old hometown of Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine.
I grew up in Israel, yet I knew almost no Palestinians. In 20 years of living there I never entered a Palestinian home. But since moving to the United States in 1998, I have developed new friendships with Palestinians in Israel. One relationship I was especially pleased to make was with Archbishop Theodosius of Sebastiya. Archbishop Theodosius or Attala Hannah is the senior Palestinian cleric in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox Church has some 130,000 members in the Holy Land, most of whom are Palestinians. Archbishop Theodosius and I are the same age. He visited me in Chicago and I visited him in his home within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate bordering on the Church of the Holy Spelucher in Jerusalem. We converse in Hebrew. At his request, I translated the Kairos document of Palestinian Christian unity into Hebrew.
As we witness the ugly exposure of broad anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, there is much work that we, as Jews, can do. Islamophobia is not just a problem with one political party, our public bodies and government agencies unfairly target Muslims. Jews are situated at a unique place in society. On the one hand, never before have we been so well-connected and influential. We are completely integrated into upper middle class suburbia through jobs, interfaith families and social connections. Jews occupy senior positions on government. Yet, the memory of being excluded and harassed by the government is still part of Jewish identity. We know what it feels like to be excluded and targeted. I have been moved so many times by the visceral sense of justice that so many Jews carry.
With compassion born in empathy, we too can exercise our strength on behalf of others.
By standing with others we can be like Moses. This, I believe, is what it means to be a Jew today.