Thursday, September 25, 2008

Working to avert the decrees of any sort

There's a great article by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer that I think everyone should read, if only to understand what makes my gander fluff. She writes:

Sept. 11, 2001 occurred just six days before Rosh Hashanah. It was the tail end of what had been a difficult 12 months on the Jewish calendar: violence in Israel, a presidential election arbitrated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Enron scandal.

Funny, it was actually a great 12 months in this Jew's life. That presidential election? It was the greatest one this country has ever had. As I've written before on this hallowed page, I look back on the election of 2000 with undisguised glee-I could not have been happier that there was, after eight years miserable years, finally a Republican in the White House. Heck, the Vikings were beaten by the Giants 41-0 in the NFC Championship game, the Twins had their first winning seasons in a decade, and my sister was engaged to be married! I had a great year. Regardless...

Then, on a particularly gorgeous morning, terrorists attacked New York and Washington. Rabbis who had worked hard on their High Holidays sermons all August rushed to rewrite them.

Which Rabbis were these? All the Rabbis I know only start to work on their sermons while they're walking to Shul Rosh Hashanah morning. But I digress.

The liturgy seemed stunningly relevant. Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire and who by water? We acknowledge our vulnerability in light of death, the harsh decree. But, the liturgy tells us, teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteous deeds) will avert -- not nullify but avert -- the evilness of the decree.
In other words, we cannot always prevent the worst from happening, but we can choose to wrest some meaning from it.
So here we are seven years later, about to enter the Jewish year 5769. The deaths of 9/11 have been compounded by more deaths in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In many ways our world is more violent and certainly more fearful than it had been.

Yes, there are more dead people in the world now than there were in 2001, but there are also more people who are alive and free. Is our world more violent? Is it certainly more fearful? I hardly think so. Saddam Hussein is gone. Libya is finished with. Pakistan is no longer a state supporter of Jihad. Are we afraid? Yeah, maybe, but no more than we ever were.

Evidence of evilness abounds.

What's her point exactly? There's evil in the world? Whoopdedoo. There's been evil in this world ever since Eve and Adam sat down to a fruit salad with a slippery character in Eden.

But this is also the time to take stock of the ways in which our liturgy speaks to a universal human theme. Many Americans, Jews and non-Jews, in the face of tragedy have chosen to move forward in these seven years -- to engage in teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

TESHUVAH: For some Americans, the first step of repentance was to say, "I don't know enough; let me repair my ignorance." Since early 1992, groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women have been joining together in living rooms to discuss books about their respective faiths. The Daughters of Abraham book groups began in Cambridge, Mass., when one Christian woman realized she didn't personally know any Muslims. Now there are 14 such groups in the Boston area alone. We just began one in Philadelphia and already there is a waiting list.

How is this Teshuva exactly? Teshuva is, as Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer wrote so eloquently above, "repentance". Sure, many Rabbis will begin their sermons this year by noting that in fact Teshuva is not repentance, but is more properly "return". However, Teshuva is decidedly not, "I don't know enough; let me repair my ignorance." Since when is ignorance a sin? And since when does violating a Torah law, the studying of other faiths, become a form of Teshuva? And why is there a waiting list? If this is such a great idea, can't everyone be included?

TEFILAH: In 2001, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Albuquerque decided she wanted to pray for peace alongside Muslims. So she called the local mosque, where she knew no one, and found herself on the phone with a scientist and peace activist named Abdul Rauf Marqetti. They came up with the idea of a peace walk -- a meditative, prayer-in-motion march for Jews and Muslims together.

In 2003, a group of Philadelphians decided to emulate them, and with no institutional backing, an ad hoc collection of Jews, Christians and Muslims began meeting monthly at the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Kensington section of the city. The first walk began at the mosque, stopped for prayer at two churches and culminated at a synagogue. It drew 400 people. Plans are under way for the Sixth Annual Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace this coming spring .

Philadelphians are not the only ones praying with others. In 2000, The Hartford Institute for Religion Research conducted a survey to find out how many congregations, if any, had participated in an interfaith service in the past year. The answer was 7 percent. By 2005, the number had grown more than threefold, to 23 percent.

Ahh yes, the brilliance of Ms. Gottleib. Since they've decided to kill us all, why not pray with them? And a peace walk. Sounds like a crusade, except this time it's the Jews who are starting it, though of course at the end of the day they'll still be the ones suffering its effects. And who exactly are we praying to here? Seems to me that on Rosh Hashanah, we should be praying to the Jewish G-d, not the Christian or Muslim one. And what are we praying for, anyway? For Muslims not to kill Jews? Seems a bit odd to pray for that in a Muslim house of worship, no?

TZEDAKAH: The Hartford study had even more striking news. When it asked about community services, the institute learned that 8 percent of congregations had joined with those of other faiths to improve conditions in their communities. Five years later it found 37 percent -- a nearly fivefold increase.

Now they want us to give Tzedakah to people who hate us? What's up with that? And what does "improve conditions" mean? Let me guess- let's fund a new community abortion clinic, a new Hamas training camp, and perhaps even a swimming pool! Oh no, sorry about that last one. The fundamentalists wouldn't allow a swimming pool, it's too risque.

Which brings us to Eboo Patel, a young Muslim born in India and raised in the American Midwest. In 2001, he was in England completing his studies as a Rhodes scholar. When he returned to the United States, he had a big idea. The way Patel saw it, young people want to change the world, and extremists are expert at giving them a cause to believe in, an exciting and dramatic movement to be part of. But what about moderate, pluralistic, liberal men and women, he wondered, those who saw religion as a way to work across faiths to make the world a better place? Could they offer young people a compelling counterpart to what the extremists offered?

Why does Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer imply here that fundamentalism and extremism are bad? And what is so great about moderate, pluralistic, and liberal people? Would it perhaps be too much a stretch of the imagination to conceive that some people might actually believe in a cause, and that not all liberalism, though glittering, is gold?

Patel thought so. He founded the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago to bring together young men and women of different faiths to serve their communities. Since 2001, his staff has grown to 20; Jewish teenagers and college students throughout the country are joining with Muslim and Christian peers to create a national interfaith youth movement.

How wonderful, a national interfaith youth movement, so they can all forget their faiths, assimilate, and we can finally we rid of this pestilence that is religion. Didn't anyone ever tell Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer that it's simply not done to discuss religion at the dinner table? Only with the greatest stretching of religious laws can there be interfaith movement. But I forget, of course, that laws are for fundamentalists, not the morally-bereft members of this youth movement.

Something is happening out there, something good. It does not eradicate the very troubling developments precipitated by the Sept. 11 attacks, but in small ways it is helping our society achieve what Jews worldwide seek to achieve at this time of year -- to avert the severity of the decree.

What are these troubling developments, pray tell? That radical Islam has lost its edge? That the world is finally prepared to face terrorism, and Israel is allowed to take care of its business? Are these troubling? And since when did Jews want to avoid the severity of the decree? Perish the thought! We long for a clear record; not a mere reprieve, but the ultimate redemption.

That's worth remembering as we mark another anniversary of that beautiful and horrible September morning -- and another Rosh Hashanah. This year our anxiety -- who will live and who will die? -- must be matched by our belief in our ability to make a difference.

I certainly do believe in my ability to make a difference. A difference, a real change, a true harbinger of freedom. I also believe in my ability to ignore stupid articles like this one in the future and not waste my time responding to them.

(Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer directs the religious studies program at Philadelphia's Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.)

(TRS eviscerates liberal hog-wash for fun and profit while trying to stay on G-d's good side at Morristown's Rabbinical College of America.)


Nemo said...

Elitist, close-minded, orthodox rabbi you are ...

How can I find this tower of faith and good will in Philadelphia?

The Real Shliach said...

Proclaim that Muhammed is Allah's true prophet, and she'll come running to find you.

arnie draiman said...

nice one. calling it like it is. yasher koach!

arnie draiman

Reconstructinist Fundamentalist said...

Arnie, what are you? A mechalel shabis or something? or perhaps you live in australia?

Cheerio said...

grrrr. aaargh. it is people like this who provoke me to theoretical violence.

The Real Shliach said...

What's you problem? Do you support people who are Mechalel Shabbos?

Cheerio said...

if you're speaking to me, then no, indeed, i do not. i love the sinner and hate the sin, and am furiously agitated by the people who distort the truth, and believe that their distortions are true.

The Real Shliach said...

Cheerio, Reconstructionist Fundamentalist was joking. As you can see, he was Mechalel Shabbos himself when he posted his comment.