Loving Our Neighbor – Jewish Muslim Solidarity Event

Shalom and Salam Alekum!  It is an honor to be here – we need today for so many reasons! At this moment of rising hatred […]

Shalom and Salam Alekum!  It is an honor to be here – we need today for so many reasons! At this moment of rising hatred directed at our communities, and a deep sense of unease in our country, we need to be there for each other.  We need to say the Hebrew word Hineni – Here I am – the word that Moses, Abraham and others said to God – at key moments in history.  Hineni – Here I am –present; ready to receive and act.

I frame an attitude of Hineni with the words of Robert Kennedy on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. died.  At a scheduled campaign rally in Indianapolis, Kennedy said:  “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort.  In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.”

On that sad day in American history, echoing the prophetic voice of Dr. King, Robert Kennedy called for love.

Love your neighbor as yourself – in Hebrew – v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha. This moment in time calls for love.  And we as a faith community rooted in our sacred texts share a common imperative to love our neighbor.  This morning we live and embody this commandment.

What does it mean to love our neighbor?  We have rich interpretive traditions that explore this question.  Maimonides, the 12th century Rabbi defined loving one’s neighbor as concrete acts: words of praise and acts of kindness: visiting the sick, comforting mourners.  His interpretation echoes a section in the Koran: “Give wealth for love of God to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask.”  We share so much in common.  We are here today fulfilling our sacred shared calling to love one another.

And in Judaism, we keep turning the concepts over and over, seeking to internalize the message for our own times.  I want to share another understanding of what it means to love your neighbor, from the 18th century Chasidic Rabbi, Moshe Leib of Sassov that I believe can further frame this day and our efforts moving forward.

Moshe Leib taught: “I learned from a peasant how to love my neighbor.”  Once at a party, I heard a drunken peasant say to his friend: “Do you love me or not?’

The other answered, “I love you greatly.”

The first peasant went on to ask: “Do you know what I need?”

“How can I possibly know what you need?” was the reply.

“How then,” asked the peasant, “can you say that you love me, when you don’t know what I need?”

From this, Rabbi Moshe Leib learned that love meant knowing what pains another – for when you know what they need, you know what pains them.

This is a sweet story – but it is hard to live.  It calls on us to not only get to know the neighbor we hardly wave at, but to come to a point where we are listening, connecting and seeking to understand what causes each other pain. We need to live this.  We need to know each other.  And our connection needs to grow so deep that I know what causes you pain and you understand the same about me.  To truly love our neighbor requires openness, vulnerability, empathy and listening.

Do you know me?

Do I know you?

I had a moment of realization in my rabbinate a couple years ago.  I realized that in over two decades as the Rabbi in Redwood City I had never had a Muslim leader speak from my pulpit. I didn’t know you and our communities don’t know each other.  This has to change. So, I reached out and we have just begun a journey to connect and understand, to listen and learn.  We created an organization – the Muslim Jewish Partnership that has organized today’s event.  It is every Jewish organization in the North and Mid Peninsula – synagogues, schools, Jewish Community Centers, the Federation, Jewish LearningWorks, the Board of Rabbis and Islamic Networks Group, Pacifica Institute and we are connecting to other Muslim organization – some of you who are here today.  Thank you to everyone for coming together in partnership.

At the first meeting, sitting in the pain and sadness of the travel ban targeting Muslims and aware of the horrific, growing hate directed at Muslims, someone asked Maha, “What can we do?”  And she responded, “You’re doing it.”  And we asked, “What are we doing?”  And she shared, “Every note we receive, every call that comes in, every act of solidarity brings tears because we feel so supported.”  To love your neighbor means to feel their pain.

And thus today’s event emerged.  And then it shifted.  As anti-semitic acts grew – threats to JCC’s, Day schools – the Ronald C. Wornick Day School in Foster City had to be evacuated;  a Jewish cemetery was desecrated – the event became mutual support of one another in the face of hatred.  To the Muslim community I share how your acts of love and reaching out have brought healing and hope. When the Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Missouri, Muslim groups initiated the effort to raise funds for repairs.  They began with a goal of $20,000 and have raised more than $100,000!  It is extraordinary.  And it happening right here! Barbara Gereboff, the Head of School at the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School shared some of the amazing notes she has received from the Muslim community, in solidarity and empathy.  You have felt our pain and responded in love.

That is what today is about.  It is not about politics.  It is not about speeches. It is about human connection and learning each others stories.   We share so much – “Love your neighbor as yourself” – this is the major principle of both of our faith traditions.  Let’s live it.  Love conquers hate.  Empathy heals.  Connections empower.  Let’s begin by saying to one another: Hineni – Here I am.