Neighborliness

February 1, 2017  

I recently became a member of a fledgling group called the “Muslim-Jewish Alliance of Boulder County.” Its purpose is to “take prayerful action to protect the civil liberties and security of all religious and other minorities” and to develop strategies “to address anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism wherever it occurs.”

friendlinessAmidst the unease precipitated by the election of Donald Trump and the increase in hate crimes and bullying, groups like this are forming throughout the country to protect minorities and progressive ideals and causes.

To me, this Alliance is a beautiful sign of neighborliness. Muslims and Jews have been at each other’s throats in Israel-Palestine for decades, yet in this little city in Colorado they are coming together to protect one another. At the Alliance meetings imams and rabbis stand up and pray in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. One imam recited this verse from the Quran:

Oh people, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you families and nations that you may know each other.  (49:13)

He emphasized the teaching that, though we have different beliefs, we have the same source and we are here to know each other and keep each other safe. Then a rabbi told the well-known story of Rabbi Hillel who was asked, some 2,000 years ago, to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The good rabbi stood on one foot and pronounced:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary.”

Later in the meeting, someone quoted my late friend Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi:

The only way we’re going to get it together is… together!

There’s an insightful politics emerging here in America in response to the fearful policies of Trumpism: on the one hand it is a movement that champions resistance, but on the other hand it recognizes that resistance must be accompanied by visions of a better life. The work of this Alliance is, yes, to resist bigotry, but it quickly and naturally blossoms into communion and neighborliness — people meeting each other, having a good time together, learning about each other, caring for each other — the heart of a better life.

At the close of one of the Alliance’s meetings I was asked to offer a prayer, though I’m not formally a Muslim or a Jew. I said something like this:

Let us pray. Let us pray that our prayers illuminate the dark corners of the world and the places where fear hurts. May we know that the origin of the light in our hearts is divine. This intimate light in our hearts that we can feel right now is God’s light, boundless in its mercy and love. May this knowing give us courage, knowing the origin of our love, and may we be confident in its strength in the days that will come, days of danger and days of brotherhood and sisterhood. May our confidence and the knowledge of our love’s origin guide us and assure us, especially in those moments when we feel threatened or afraid.

Muslims and Jews, and indeed people of all faiths, are not strangers to suffering. We know the hard path love asks. Let us take that path, not only when we hold hands with one another but when people whose hearts are closed from hurts they too have suffered, when they try to hurt and demean us, let us take then the hard path of love: standing firm for what matters while reaching out with forgiveness and wisdom to those arrayed against us. Let that be how we make our offering to the healing of the world.