Inclusivity and mutual respect seem in so many ways lacking in our current culture, not simply within the United States but all over the world. Fear of “other” reigns. We shout at each other, we hurl profanity at each other, we demean each other. We do everything but listen. It’s a poison as well as addictive, and it is killing us. Moving away from that poison and addiction has been the calling of my life. It brought me to ministry as an interfaith minister, whose congregation included Muslims, Jews, Christians, Humanists, Baha’i, Buddhists.
How and why did a child born into a Jewish family, who still walks the path of Judaism, grow up to become an interfaith minister who calls all of humanity his family? The long answer may be found in my recently published book, “One Family: Indivisible,” which lays out my spiritual journey from childhood into my 70s. But perhaps a short example from that journey may shed some light.
I was born in the late 1940s, just after World War II and the Shoah (or as we called it then, the Holocaust). I still vividly remember as a child when I was at last old enough to register the magnitude of the tragedy. One out of three Jews on the planet, two out of three in Europe, had been murdered — stepped on like so many ants. And I’m Jewish! At that time (perhaps I was 6?) I had no real idea what being Jewish meant. But whatever “like me” meant, one out of three people “like me” on the planet had been gassed, or shot, or hung, or tortured and starved to death. I was shaken to my roots and terrified as I have never been terrified before or since. People hated me, people who had never met me!
Afterward, my mom took me aside and said words to me that I have never forgotten.
“Do you like that some people hate you?”
“No,” I whispered.
“Do you like what it feels like to be hated?”
“Then don’t ever hate.”
I have carried these words with me my entire life. And they started me on the interfaith path — respect our differences, rather than fear them. And never resort to hate.
This helped me most immediately as I grew and met African Americans. The Holocaust happened in Europe, not the United States. And the war was over and Hitler was dead. But I began to ponder what it must be like for a child of color that very first time that she or he comprehends that slavery happened here — not in Europe, it happened here. And after slavery was outlawed, Jim Crow happened here. And the white supremacists have shown us that both hate and violence for people of color is still very real. I cannot know or pretend to know what it is like, especially in that first moment for a black child to realize that his or her life isn’t safe in America. But I do feel I have at least an inkling, and it makes me shudder.
The interfaith path that I have learned to walk comes from realizing that we are all brothers and sisters, and that mutual respect can come from remembering to try to walk a mile in the shoes of not only our friends, but also those we disagree with, even if we disagree strongly.