Rumi Forum Hampton Roads chapter organized its 12th Annual Peace and Dialogue Awards Ceremony on November 12, 2015.
In this year’s award ceremony, Rumi Forum recognized Joanne Batson, James and Susan Haugh, Teresa Stanley, and Rajeeb Islam. The keynote address was delivered by Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, who talked about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Rumi Forum president Emre Celik also spoke at the event.
See below for Rabbi Mandelberg’s speech.
Meeting One Another
My friends and I went to the fair . . . the World Fair of Religions. Not a trade fair. But the competition was fierce, the propaganda loud.
At the Jewish stall, we were given handouts that said that God was all-compassionate and the Jews were His Chosen People. The Jews. No other people were as chosen as they.
At the Moslem stall we learned that God was all-merciful and Mohammad is His only Prophet. Salvation comes from listening to God’s prophet.
At the Christian stall we discovered that God is love and there is no salvation outside the Church. Join the church or risk eternal damnation.
On the way out, I asked my friend, “What do you think of God?” He replied: “He is bigoted, fanatical, and cruel.”
Back home, I said to God, “How do you put up with this sort of thing, Lord? Don’t You see they have been giving you a bad name for centuries?
God said, “It wasn’t I who organized the fair. In fact, I’d be too ashamed to visit it.”
My friends, how often have we, who gather here tonight, people of faith, all, felt just like God in the story? How many times have we, who are compassionate and gracious; we, who love and cherish others regardless of their race, religion, nationality or creed; we, who pursue peace, justice, prosperity, and redemption for ALL of God’s children — how many times have we had the same reaction to many of our co-religionists who seem to be listening to a bigoted, fanatical, and cruel God!?! We wonder what Scriptures are they reading? Whose voice are they hearing and heeding? What purpose are they fulfilling? How are they reconciling their hateful speech, violent actions, and blasphemy with the compassionate, merciful, peace-loving, redeeming, and good God we all know and love?
Rather than wondering how, there are many, including the Rumi Forum, who sponsor this dinner tonight, who are gathering in cities like ours all of over the world, to promote peace in the world and to contribute to peaceful coexistence of the adherents of different faiths, cultures, ethnicities and races.
For this to be achieved, the members of the Rumi Forum, which includes us, believe that everyone must be respectful of all people’s right to exist and in the sanctity of human rights and democracy. And most of all, that we must use all means at hand to make this coexistence possible. I want to thank, Emre Celik, Rumi Forum president; current local Better Understanding Club chair, Ertan Kaya; immediate past chair, Bayram Torayev; and founding chapter chair, Mustafa Canaan; as well as the advisory council, for all of the work you do to promote peace in our community, country and world.
From these friendships and so many others we’ve forged throughout our lives and work, we know that peace must begin in relationships; in meeting one another as individual children of God; in coming together to talk about our own faith, beliefs, and values; and in learning from one another our truths, our ideals, and our aspirations. Interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding never mean diluting our own cherished traditions and morals or trying to change the customs and principles of our friends sitting across the table from us. But peaceful coexistence certainly requires that we listen with an open mind and heart to that which is central to the soul of our sister and brother human beings seated beside us.
“God is found in the genuine meeting of two people,” said Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. I hope that, during your dinner tonight, you have had the opportunity to meet God in your conversations with those seated near and around you. I hope that you exchange cards, phone numbers, and e-mails so that you can continue your conversations. I hope we have the chance to meet again, often, to continue these new friendships. Because every time we reach across the table in friendships, old and new, we make God manifest in our world, weakening those who would give God a bad name.
For the past three months, I have been privileged to be a part of another working group — this one comprised of interfaith clergy — whose goal is to forge relationships across racial and religious lines here in Hampton Roads. Called HUBB, Hands United in Building Bridges, it was formed by Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz of Temple Beth El and Dr. Antipas Harris, a professor in the School of Divinity at Regent University and Theologian-in-Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk.
Its goal is to be a local constructive response to the racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities across our nation, from Baltimore to Charleston. Each month we have gathered to study one another’s sacred texts, practically speaking, to build bridges; but also, in the language of the spirit, to make God manifest in the world. What we have learned has been fascinating.
The question, of course, is how do we do this? How do we make God manifest in the world? I’ll begin with my tradition, since I know it best. For Jews the question is: how do we fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 10:12, which asks: “What does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to love, revere and serve God with all your heart and soul; but, most importantly, to walk in God’s ways.” Loving, revering and serving God, we get. But how does one walk in God’s ways?
Of course, the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 14a) have an answer. R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: What does the text mean: “You shall walk after God” (Deuteronomy 13)? Is it possible for a human being to walk after God; for has it not been said: “For God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4)?
The rabbis answer: To walk after God’s ways means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One. Just as God clothes the naked, so do you also clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, blessed be God, visited the sick, so do you also visit the sick. Just as God, comforted the mourners, so do you also comfort mourners. And just as the Holy one, blessed be God, buried the dead, so do you also bury the dead.
- Simlai expounded: The Torah begins and ends with acts of benevolence; so, too, should our lives be, from beginning to end, a series of acts of benevolence.
Another rabbinic text answers the question what does it means to walk in God’s ways in a slightly different way: “These are the ways of the Holy One, Blessed be He: “The Lord is a merciful and gracious God . . . ” (Shemot 34:6-7) . . . Just as God is called merciful and gracious, so should you be merciful, gracious, and give indiscriminately to all. Just as the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is called righteous so should you be righteous “[Sifrei Devarim, Parshat Ekev, Section 13].
According to Judaism, walking in God’s ways means exercising mercy, justice, and righteousness with ALL of our brothers and sisters; it means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing housing for the poor, visiting the sick, burying the dead, redeeming the captive and, as tonight, providing blankets and coats for the refugee. In all these ways, we manifest God in the world. There are those who believe the highest human goal to be the contemplation of God’s essence; but we know that our ultimate purpose is to emulate God’s traits of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Contemplation and prayer have their place, Judaism teaches, but only if they lead us to minister to those in need each and every day.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of our eras most prophetic voices, says, “While Judaism has many beautiful symbols, there is only one symbol that represents God, and that is each person. Thus more important than to have a symbol is to be a symbol. And every person can consider himself or herself a symbol of God. This is our challenge: to live in a way compatible with being a symbol of God, to walk in God’s ways, to remember who we are and Whom we represent, and to remember our role as partners with God in working to redeem the world.”
Just yesterday morning, while attending this month’s HUBB Meeting, David McBride, Ghent Campus Pastor and Social Media Director of New Life Church, brought two Christian Scriptures; and guess what I learned? Christianity has much to say about what it means to manifest God in the world, to walk in God’s ways, too. And its similarity to Jewish teaching is profound. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You; or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in; or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
And John [13:34-35] adds: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
How does Jesus say we should make Him manifest in the world — by walking in His ways! Feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, free the captive, love one another. The way you treat the least among you, is how you treat and love Me. And Pastor McBride was quick to point out that, as in Judaism, the expectation is that we help all God’s children — no matter their religion or race, no matter their class or status. If you are truly Jesus’ representatives, if you are truly walking in God’s ways, you must stand with all of God’s children — the neediest in our midst; the person sitting next to you or across from you at the table; the one whose skin color or dress is different from yours; your neighbor and also the stranger in your midst; and especially the Syrian refugee who so desperately needs our help right now.
Imam Rashid Khould, of the Virginia Beach Crescent Community Center, who was present could not remain silent. Passionately, he taught us, in another profound moment, that Islam shares these very same teachings. Quoting from the speech of the prophet Muhammad, in a text called Hadith Qudsi (18), it is written: “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say:
O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him?
O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me?
O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.”
Indeed, how do we find God? By looking in the face of our fellow and, in particular, in the face of our fellow in need. If we fail to do so, we fail to see, let alone to manifest, God in our midst. Friends, we are all here tonight, children of God, disciples of faith and truth, because we believe that our purpose on this earth is to seek peace by bringing peace to one another. Only in seeing the face of God in each other’s faces will we be able to build the bridges that this world so desperately needs. Five such individuals are being honored tonight. Our heartfelt congratulations on your well-deserved Peace and Dialogue awards to Joanne Batson; Teresa Stanley and Rajeeb Islam; and Susan and Jim Haugh; but even more so, thank you for your manifesting of God in our midst through your work on behalf of those in need each and every day.
In the words of the great Sufi philosopher Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” So it begins. May it be God’s will. Amen.
Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg
Ohef Sholom Temple
November 12, 2015