Like countless others I find myself inspired by the humility and effervescent love expressed daily through the life of Pope Francis. Today I watched him and read reports of his time in Manger Square, Bethlehem, stopping at the Security Wall and requesting the presence of the two Presidents at the Vatican to join him in prayers for peace. I have/am finding my own relationship to peace initiated in large part by my relationship to my Jewish faith and my synagogue; Kehilat HaNahar, The Little Shul By the River in New Hope, PA. I picked up the torch of a dear friend who died unexpectedly some sixteen years ago, (Jerry Halper), and began a quest to provide members of my synagogue with a deeper understanding of Israel and found myself walking along a path promoting peace and understanding between the faiths here and in our shared Holy Land. It is the path of a student who learns most by experiencing the beauty of each faith as I attended services at the Yardley United Methodist Church and at the Mosque of the Zubaida Foundation in Yardley as well as at my Little Shul just up the Delaware River.
I have had the blessing of being welcomed in many mosques, churches and synagogues and have worked with a small group of interfaith clergy to share those blessing with the public. Having led facilitated Interfaith Conversations to begin a sensitive exploration of the faith of others by Christians, Jews, Muslims and those of other religions together we examine the many things we have in common and touch on the dark places that produce fear and anger and pain. It is an essential dialogue for us to have here in America and for those in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to begin in order to transcend boundaries that separate us as human beings of different faiths but all children of G-d. We can learn a great deal from the humbleness of Pope Francis and his mission which we should all join to make life better for all who are suffering from economic, physical and emotional deprivations. We can meet him in our places of worship by being inspired to look beyond all we know at the hunger that plagues our communities and the fear that separates us from our sisters and brothers. We can teach justice by acting on behalf of justice locally and 5000 miles away by asking our political representatives not to forget the dream of peace and to act in their small capacity to open doors and let in light and take uneasy steps forward to reach out to those that remain largely and so unfortunately an “other,” beyond our understanding. We have so many bridges to build and so much distance to overcome that we must find ways to approach it together as communities of faith, as communities of love, as communities of friends and neighbors of divergent ideas that share a common belief in peace and the value of a loving G-d that looks out for all his children.
We find ourselves in a world that seems to be spinning out of control and seek in so many small ways to bring order to our lives, our families and our society. It is a challenge for each of us to look beyond one, to take the time to engage in a mission that is larger than yourself and honestly may not find resolution through your efforts or even in your lifetime. We can hope and if we are of a mind we can choose to act, to reach out and make a difference. Peace in our families, our communities and the Middle East often remains beyond our grasp. I have two very good friends, one a Rabbi, (George Stern), and one a lawyer, Richard Yaskin, who each placed a well known Jewish saying from the Talmud at the bottom of their email:
“It is not incumbent upon you to complete God’s work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
I agree and believe that we all face many challenges including the collective challenge to enfranchise peace in our lives, through our communities and specifically in Jerusalem and Ramallah and Gaza between the members of our extended family through our personal involvement.