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Discovering the Humanity in Eachother

June 2015

From the Desk of Rabbi Stern

Recent events in Monmouth County have highlighted the pervasive undercurrent of anti-Muslim rhetoric and action in our community. Sometimes it comes out in print or on social media; sometimes, it is hateful language directed at kids in school. And then there are the times that a slur or a spray-painted message appears on a house, or school or locker, so no one sees the deed being done, just the result.

And it has to stop.

At a recent public meeting, I invited people unfamiliar with Islam to come to TRT to learn more about this rich heritage, because I believe that here in this Temple we have doors wide enough and hearts big enough and minds open enough to allow people who are different in some ways and the same in others to learn and meet and sing and eat and perhaps even pray together.

That may seem odd: why would anyone interested in learning from Muslim neighbors come to a shul? I have two answers: the first, because Jewish tradition demands v'ahavta le’rei'echa kamocha - you shall love your neighbor as yourself, and the second, because we know what it feels like to be hated. All this past year we have heard about a dramatic increase in anti-Semitism: we cry about lives lost in Paris and Germany and Belgium and in the United States. In 2014 alone, there was a 38% increase in bias attacksagainst Jews in Europe. As a result, the President of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called for a "mass immigration" of Jews from Europe and elsewhere to come live in Israel. I disagree. While Jews making aliyah to Israel is to be celebrated, if we are all in one place, we become more vulnerable as a people and unable to teach our neighbors in countries other than Israel who we are - because we will not be anywhere but in the Holy Land.

My answer to hatred is to learn. And to teach.

This coming school year, we are going to invite students from local midrasas to learn, eat and play with us. We will have opportunities as parents and teachers to get to know people who are as passionate about their faith as we are about ours. We will find common projects on which to volunteer. We will learn about Islam and we will teach about Judaism. We will share foods (and maybe recipes). We will be frank about our differences and discover many similarities.

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Most of all, I hope that we will discover the humanity in each other. Are there Muslim extremists who wish to kill us? Absolutely. Should we rail against those who model destruction? You bet. If we are honest with ourselves, we also know there are some Jews who do things to Muslims that make us cringe, and we should fight against those kinds of radicals as well.

So let's challenge ourselves in the New Jewish Year of 5776 to look beyond the stereotypes and the misinformation and break bread with people who share common roots. Most of all, let's teach the next generation of Jews to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks. Let us teach war no more. (cf. Isaiah 2:4).

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