Rabbi’s Message: Sep. 1, 2013

Learning to Love One Another

Kisilim yisn’u da’at
Fools hate understanding.
Mishlay (Proverbs) 15:21

N’von davar: shemavin davar mitokh davar
An intelligent person can recognize the essence of the matter.
Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Sanhedrin 93b

Batar reisha gufah azel
The body follows the head.
Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Eruvin 41a

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command
C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try and love one another right now

“Get Together,” Chet Powers (Dino Valente)

Chevra,

We are rapidly closing in on our High Holidays. When you receive this, Rosh Hashana will be but days away. I’m sure that by now you are very familiar with how I like to focus on the word rosh/head in discussing Rosh HaShana. As Rosh HaShana is a time of fixing and rectification, it must of course start with the fixing of the head, the way we perceive of and understand the world we live in.

If you were to think about what ethnic group that you as a Jew are most comfortable with, it would be my assumption that it would be Italians. Why? Historically, Italians and Jews immigrated to this wonderful country at approximately the same time. They lived close to one another, often sharing neighborhoods, became familiar with each other’s ways, and understood each other’s common needs and goals. Jews and Italians became good friends and allies, a relationship that continues to this day.

Today, different patterns in immigration have dramatically altered demographics, especially in New York. Seeking prosperity and freedom, many Hispanic people have migrated to the United States—many of them arriving “illegally.” It’s hard to tell someone suffering in unrelenting poverty, deprivation, and oppression that because it is “illegal” they should not cross an invisible line and come here to work hard and reap the benefits of their efforts. I’m sure by now you know that I am an ardent advocate of immigration reform. As we are the descendants of immigrants ourselves, most of us are sympathetic and also support efforts to remedy this situation.

There is, however, another immigrant group, which is rapidly increasing in number, that not every Jew is so comfortable with. That would be the growing Muslim community. Due to the continuous cruel rejectionism displayed against the State of Israel by many Arab and Islamic countries and the ongoing problem of terrorism committed by fanatical Islamist/Jihadist groups, some Jews are apprehensive about extending our traditional support of the immigrant to the American Muslim community.

Two years ago, I met some leaders of the Muslim community at a 9/11 commemoration. I was moved by and fully accepted the sincerity of their articulate declarations of love and loyalty to our country.

This meeting at that event began a process of dialogue that is active to this day. In addition to meeting with and having discussions with a leader of that community, I have been invited to two ground breakings for the construction of mosques and a Ramadan breaking of bread. I have been treated with much friendship and respect and have been asked to be a featured speaker at each of these occasions.

I found the people to be warm and friendly and so eager to accept the words of friendship that I spoke to them. This community deeply desires to be at peace and friendship with both Jews and Christians and be accepted as a part of the beautiful and diverse mosaic of American life. Muslims, like us, want to enjoy the political and religious freedoms and opportunities for prosperity that America uniquely offers. The mosques that I am familiar with are filled with members that love and appreciate this country just as we do.

I believe love, tolerance, and acceptance to be values that really don’t need to be justified. They are just good. They are very holy. However, if we are to be practical we should understand that just as Sheldon and Tony grew up and went to school together and were friends, Juan and Abdul are now growing up and going to school together and becoming friends. Demographics have changed and Latinos and Muslims are two of the fastest growing communities. We are aware that the Jewish population is not increasing in the same fashion and our percentage of the population will be smaller in the future. It is essential for the Jewish community of the future that we form strong bonds of
friendship with these groups today.

Rosh Hashana can be rearranged to say shana harosh/change the head. Perhaps if we can alter our rosh/head a bit this Rosh Hashana, the hearts in our bodies will follow and we can surely get together and love one another right now.

B’Shalom,
Menashe

Column originally appeared in the Sept 1, 2013, issue of the Bellerose Jewish Center newsletter, The Messenger.

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