Middle East attacks show the desperate need for interfaith understanding
Each year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 I pause and think about how much the world has changed since that heartbreaking day, and not so much for the better. This sentiment was illustrated with tragic clarity this year as I watched attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya . The results were immediately the death of the U.S Ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff, new protests in Yemen, and increased tension between the U.S. and the Arab world.
Conflicting reports suggest these riots were a reaction to a despicable anti-Muslim video, produced here in the United States and circulated on YouTube, or a meticulously planned attack by al-Qaeda that used the riots as cover. Either catalyst only demonstrates with greater clarity how much work is left to be done before we fully eradicate the prejudice and heal from the wounds inflicted 11 years ago.
Violence and hatred cannot be the basis for dialogue between the U.S. and the Arab world. Improved relations will be difficult until that is understood. At the same time, the anti-Muslim bigotry that has become all too pervasive in the United States is only amplified when it reaches the rest of the world and runs the risk of being perceived as the view of all Americans. That misconception is then used by those who seek to target Americans as a means of stirring up hatred among their followers.
The producers of this hateful anti-Muslim film knew full well that it would provoke anger in Muslim community. Make no mistake about it; those that used this crude film to stoke the uprising also knew they were inflaming the passions on the street. It is the world we live in that anyone with a video camera, a Facebook page and some time can have as much impact as a broadcast network.
We saw what hate brought on Sept. 11, 2001 and we saw what hate looked like when Terry Jones threatened to burn a Koran last year. We saw what hate leads to with the shooting at the Sikh Gurdwarain Wisconsin earlier this year. And we saw the result of that hate with this week’s tragedy.
The hateful film used as justification – or cover – for this violence is of little relevance to the vast majority of Americans and certainly does not represent the views of the U.S. government. It is no excuse for this week’s violence, but Libya is a nation that is emerging from years of dictatorship where the mere existence of a film can be mistakenly understood to have the endorsement of the state in which it was created. Those responsible for these deaths must be brought to justice, and going forward, anger should be expressed through means that lead to productive dialogue not deaths
The next time we mark the anniversary of Sept. 11, I hope we are able to look back at the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his colleagues as a turning point in our interactions with one another. In the meantime, we will do well to intensify our efforts to promote respect for religious freedom and strive for interreligious understanding every day, which will helpcreate a new context for the inevitable misstatement or offensive remark that provides a framework within which the wrong quickly can be resolved.
Civility Materials for Elul/High Holy Days
August 28, 2012
JCPA Board and Member Agencies Civility and Rabbinic Letter Signatories
Rabbi Steve Gutow, President, JCPA
Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Chair, Working Group on Sacred Text
Once again, as the Yamim Nora'im/High Holy Days approach, our
liturgy and personal practice powerfully call our attention to issues of
human communication. For example, the themes of listening and seeing
are woven throughout the Torah readings on the chagim, and the vidui/confessional
prayers focus intensively on the uses and misuses of speech in our
lives. This sacred season impels us to consider how we speak and
listen–in our relationships and in community–as a central part of our
work of teshuva/repentance. In addition, this year we find
ourselves in the midst of a campaign season that many consider to be
particularly contentious. In the public square, speech is too often
raucous and disrespectful, and real listening rare.
As we enter Elul, we again share with you materials on civility and robust, respectful conversation, gathered as part of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Campaign for Civility (www.jewishpublicaffairs.org/civility). Linked below is a collection of sermons and articles that we hope you may be able to use in your synagogue and community work during the High Holy Day season. We imagine the study sheets as excellent material for Yom Kippur afternoon study sessions. We suggest you consider excerpting pieces of the texts in your intra-communal communication, addressing the crisis of incivility in the Jewish community and in American public life.
1. Sermons and Essays on Civility. Please consider giving your own High Holiday derasha on issues of civil discourse, or encourage your rabbi to do so. We offer these sermons and articles, several from the San Francisco Year of Civil Discourse initiative, as samples to inspire your own creative wrestling with the issues.
Rosh Hashanah Words
Rabbi Melanie Aron
More Than Meets the Eye
Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Hillel, Israel, Palestine & Me
Rabbi David J. Cooper
Reconsidering the Israel Narrative, Renarrating How We Speak, Listen and Act in Community
Rabbi David J. Cooper
This Is Your Brain on Conflict: The Problem of Polarized Communication
Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Rabbi Arnold Eisen
Rosh Hashanah – Civil Discourse in America, Israel and Our Congregation
Rabbi Nat Ezray
Passionate, Compassionate Dialogue
Rabbi Shelly Lewis
Idolatry Against Humans
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko
Rabbi Daniel Pressman
Combating Delegitimization Requires A Big Tent
Rabbi Mark Schiftan
Can Civility Be the Answer to Polarization?
Eyal Rabinovitch and Rabbi Melissa Weintraub
A Synagogue of Dialogue
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
2. Jewish Sacred Texts on Civility for study sessions during the holiday season can be found at this link. (With special thanks to Rabbi Sheldon Lewis and the Year of Civil Discourse Initiative, a project of the San Francisco JCRC, Jewish Community Federation, Board of Rabbis, and East Bay Federation).
3. Three Brief Study Sheets, suitable for study sessions, first published as full-page ads in the "J Weekly," the Jewish newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Area. Each one includes a brief, evocative classical text on the theme of civility in the center of the page, with beautiful contemporary interpretations, arranged like a page of gemara. They are posted at http://tinyurl.com/8q9bssr The ads are from the Start of the Campaign, Pesach, and Tisha B'av.
4. Other resources can be found at:
Jewish Council on Public Affairs Campaign for Civility
Jewish Dialogue Group
San Francisco Year of Civil Discourse
We plan to bring you more such materials in the near future, supporting an ever-growing civility movement within the Jewish community. Please let us know if you have suggestions for formats and/or categories of text materials that you would find helpful in your own work on this issue. (Please respond to Rabbi Amy Eilberg at email@example.com, with copies to Ethan Felson at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Wishing you a rich and not-too-hectic month of Elul, and with early prayers for a year of blessing and peace.