Saundra Sterling Epstein

Where Are My Multi-Faith Groups When I Need Them Most?

“People are in so much pain, we just can’t talk to each other right now.”

“I don’t have the bandwidth now for any group except for my own.”

“My partner in this work just totally destroyed me with their vitriol.”

“I feel so alone and abandoned and isolated. People on the right and on the left won’t even acknowledge me and my viewpoint.”

These are just some of the comments I have heard recently from people who are really trying so hard … to maintain our connections to our brothers and sisters in our Multi-Faith world. Having had the experience of involvement in these circles around really challenging issues for decades, I am struck and pained about how much of this important work and the connections it has fostered has come to a screeching halt for too many of us at this critical juncture.

The anger has amped up, the positions people take have calcified to the point where they cannot listen to anyone who disagrees, stances have become monochromatic and uncompromising… and for those of us who are still trying, these are truly dark days. No matter how one looks at the situation involving Israel/Israelis and Palestine/Palestinians, what is going on is horrible and unsustainable. Too much death, too much destruction, too much loss of understanding and ability to converse. Wonderful organizations doing important work are struggling and if one is not totally on one side or the other, not bothering to see the humanity of all B’nai Adam, one is in a terribly lonely place. Listening to each other is happening less and less in THESE circles of dialogue and relationality that many have worked so long and hard to build up…. for moments just as this one! And we are all failing and wailing.

Just as we talk about “the day after” for Israelis and Palestinians, we must think about the day after for our Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other faith brothers and sisters. How will we rebuild relationships? How will those of us who have been vilified and hurt so deeply move past this rupture?

My amazing daughter Rachie who has also been so engaged in such conversations says, “Everyone is in so much pain. We just have to recognize we share being in pain and that may be as far as we can go.” I have tried that approach with one of my partners in this work and it did not work. So, do we just stop talking? Relating? Working together? That does not seem like a meaningful way to go for this Orthodox Jewish woman who loves Israel, wants and needs Israel to do much better, feels for Israelis, innocent Palestinians, and all who are suffering. I will actually be in Israel for several weeks beginning next Thursday and already have various experiences set up to continue my own work in sharing stories and seeing individuals as meaningful and important entities within this horrible situation in which that perspective is too often lost.

I am still trying to get past the roadblocks of halted conversations and pull on my decades of work in dialogue and facilitating challenging interactions to forge ahead and I will not abandon this important element of trying to continue to heal the fractures in our very broken world. I commit myself unconditionally to:

  • Continue interaction with all who agree to share their story and listen to mine, even if and especially if they are from a completely different perspective and experience.
  • Acknowledge that we are all in pain.
  • Be very aware of my words, tone of my voice, body language, etc. and express openness to listening with every fiber of my being.
  • Realize that inflammatory language and name calling MUST be off the table and I will not reduce myself to that no matter what others around me do.
  • Simultaneously call out what must be called out and not reduce everything to some relative notion of moral equivalency.
  • Agree to parameters of a given discussion or dialogue, clarify it is NOT a debate and articulate what issues are on the table and what is not.
  • Come to every action with compassion, care and honesty, all appropriately tempered.

I DO think of the “day after” in my Multi-Faith work and want to thank my many partners in this work who are still standing with me in the middle, trying to see all sides of the situation and realize that on our shoulders is the responsibility of continuing to connect so WE can help others rebuild what is being compromised in these days and weeks.

With continued prayers for all who are suffering and with hope that we will be able to see and honor the humanity in each other.

About the Author
Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein (Sunnie) earned her B.A., M.S. and Ed.D at the University of Pennsylvania. Sunnie directs BeYachad , bringing Jewish living and learning together and has been teaching texts, reaching and inspiring students and looking at challenging issues in the world in which we live and how to bring these three together for decades. She has published widely in a variety of venues on a variety of topics, including Women in Faith, Inclusion of LGBTQ Members in our Communities of Faith, Environmental Sustainability, Prayer, G-d Talk, the importance of Interfaith and Intrafaith Dialogue, Israeli-Palestinian Relations Beyond the Conflict, and so many others. Sunnie presently is Director of the Welcoming Shuls and Communities Project of ESHEL, the National LGBT Inclusion Consortium for the Orthodox Jewish Community, gives shiyurim in various communities, serves on the leadership team a Multi-Faith Coalition and continues to develop creative ways of teaching texts. Her book, Life Journeys: Stepping Back and Moving Forward was published in February 2017 and is available through
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