Spreading a little bit of hope
February 20, 2015
The world is full of terrible news, including news about inter-religious mistrust, hatred, and violence. And since it's Adar and we're supposed to be joyful, I thought I'd signal-boost a few hopeful things which have come across my transom recently. First is a small one -- a reminder that there are individuals out there who buck trends of mistrust between different religious communities:
MOROCCO: Lahcen, Berber Muslim from Arazan has kept a promise for 70 years to clean the grave of his Jewish friends. pic.twitter.com/jzbqI31oLx— Children of Peace (@ChildrenofPeace) February 19, 2015
I found this image beautiful -- the care with which he is tending to the Hebrew-inscribed headstone speaks to me of meaningful relationship. A bit of online digging reveals that there have been Jews in Morocco since Roman times, though today only about 2,500 remain. You can read a bit more about Lahcen and his spiritual generosity here: 8 touching stories of Jewish and Muslim friendship.
Next, here's one which involves a lot more people. You've probably read about the recent shootings outside a Copenhagen synagogue and free speech rally. 30,000 Danes marched peacefully in response to those shootings, and the Prime Minister of Denmark spoke in solidarity with Danish Jews. (Read all about it: 'Attack on Jews is an attack on all of us': Thousands of Danes Rally in Copenhagen.)
Here's another response to the violence in Copenhagen, and to the bigger picture of how members of different minority religious traditions relate to each other in Europe: Muslims plan 'peace ring' around Oslo synagogue. That was the first (brief) article I read about the intention of one Muslim community to make a statement about caring for local Jews. Here's a longer one, from the Washington Post:
The headlines have been grim...But the future of tolerance and multiculturalism in Europe is far from bleak. The bigotry on view has been carried out by a fringe minority, cast all the more in the shade by the huge peace marches and vigils that followed the deadly attacks. And some communities are trying to build solidarity in their home towns and cities...
Ervin Kohn, a leader of Oslo's small Jewish community, had agreed to allowing the event on the condition that more than 30 people show up — a small gathering would make the effort look "counter-productive," Kohn said. Close to 1,000 people have indicated on Facebook that they will attend.
(Read the whole thing: Norwegian Muslims Will Form a Human Shield Around Oslo Synagogue.) Obviously something like forming a "human shield" or "peace ring" is a onetime happening, but to me the fact that so many people are interested in participating says to me that this is a meaningful expression of support which will, God willing, last beyond the day of the peace ring's formation.
On a related note, I've been watching the #IGoToSynagogue hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag began as a Jewish initiative, a way for Jews to proudly assert that despite violence at one of our houses of worship, we will still continue to gather, live, pray, mourn, and celebrate as holy community. Dayenu, that would have been enough. But the hashtag is also being used in an unexpected way.
Here's the image which I'm seeing all over my Twitter and Facebook feeds -- Muslims Ayse Cindilkaya and Bacem Dziri at a synagogue, holding a sign bearing that hashtag and declaring that they stand for the safety and sanctity of all houses of worship, not only their own. The photo bears the logo of the European Muslim Jewish Dialogue group, and it's a lovely show of solidarity with Jews:
1 tweet says it all RT @lezarub #igotosynagogue pic.twitter.com/n17HFtaMOf— Ben Af Rothenberg (@RisingRedStorm) February 19, 2015
(If the above image doesn't appear, you can go directly to it by clicking on this link.) And last but not least, speaking of solidarity with one another: here's an article in the Times of Israel which I found worth reading -- London's Faithful Walk Together in Show of Solidarity.
[A]s they walked, wide-eyed, into the airy piazza of the mosque, to greet and meet people of all faiths and none, there was a palpable relaxing of shoulders and a cheerful atmosphere.
The mosque was the first stage in a simple but charming initiative, called the Coexist Pilgrimage, devised by faith leaders in response to the attacks in Paris in January. The alumni of the Cambridge Coexist Leadership Program already knew each other. So when a rabbi – Masorti Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg — and a Christian minister, the Rev Margaret Cave, put their heads together with the assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sheikh Ibrahim Mograbi, it wasn’t hard to come up with the idea of the faith walk...
At a moment in time when we're hearing a lot about the awful ways that human beings can treat one another, here are some glimmers of common ground and of hope. Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate.