Being Part of the Religious Community

At this moment, the thoughts of so many in the Jewish community are focused on Israel and the conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. At this moment, I will simply offer a hope that a cease fire can be reached before there is more fear and more death. I certainly believe that Israel is justified in responding to the incessant rocket attacks on communities in the South. But, I also believe that this response is by no means a long range solution to the issues facing Israel and I hope that a cease fire will come sooner rather than later and somehow can lead to a Middle East free from pain and suffering. My thoughts and prayers go with those who are suffering and those in fear. May the new week bring new commitment to peace.

But, I have another topic in mind as I write this on the Saturday evening before Thanksgiving. I’m thinking about the other connection we as synagogues should be concerned with. In addition to feeling part of a Jewish community, we should feel part of the community of faith in the city in which we live.

As Jews, we have many issues which concern us and many reasons why we identify with a Jewish community. For some, religious faith, ritual and spirituality do not enter into the equation. But, for many of us, this is the primary reason for our connection with our Jewish community and if that is the case, it is critical that we feel part of a larger community of faith as we have so much in common with others, so much to learn from them, so much of our tradition to share.

Tomorrow evening, our Congregation is hosting the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration sponsored by the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County. I love this event. It is truly a remarkable evening which has been carefully crafted over the years to produce an educational and inspirational experience which does not require anyone to compromise their own religious principles. The communal hymns and readings are chosen carefully to be comfortable for all. But, the highlight of the evening is the sharing of chants, song and readings from religious traditions, each chosen by the individual participants to reflect his or her religious faith’s tradition of giving thanks.

When Beth Israel hosted this celebration some 15 years ago, it began with a native American sharing a spiritual chant from our bima. Tomorrow evening, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish representatives will share of their faith. And, in doing so, we will all be elevated.

I love our Jewish tradition. That goes without saying. But, I am fascinated by other faiths and love to experience that which is offered by others. If you’re in Ann Arbor, I invite you to come to the celebration at 7 pm. If you are not in Ann Arbor, perhaps there is a similar program in your community. I urge you to attend.

I am not naive about the conflicts that religions have with each other and I certainly know that one communal evening won’t end those conflicts. But, for one night, instead of concentrating on the conflicts, we will think of how blessed we are to live in a diverse country with so many different approaches to religious faith. And, we will realize  how blessed we are to live in a community in which we, as Jews, are respected and embraced as will be clear tomorrow evening when the entire community will come to our home to share a celebration and the reception which will follow.

I pray for  peace in Israel and Gaza. I pray for the children, the innocent on both sides who live in fear and  I pray for safety and security for our brothers and sisters in Israel. And, I pray that throughout our community and throughout the world, the different faiths will be able to share moments of mutual respect as we seek to transform this world.

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