by Susan L. Lipson
Since the shooting at Chabad of Poway, people of all faiths, from across the county, have rallied together for vigils and services to support their Jewish neighbors. More than 4,000 people showed up Monday night at Poway High School for a vigil cosponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and school district. Such interfaith solidarity shines like the candles at the vigils, driving away the darkness that divides people into “Us versus Them,” “Right versus Wrong,” or “Supreme versus Inferior.”
The mission statement of the Poway Interfaith Team (POINT) reads: “We believe diverse faith traditions in our communities add to the richness of life…. We support a culture of interfaith dialogue and inter-religious cooperation….” As a POINT board member, I believe that our bonds among diverse communities must be based on what all people value and love, not only on shared anger toward some mutual “enemy” or ideology. Our bonds should arise from what we stand for, not against. Interfaith solidarity means respect for all faiths, or, at the very least, tolerance of others’ beliefs — the antithesis of “supremacy.” Too many of our religions inherently contribute to the notion of “supremacy” by implying that “we” alone have the “right” path to God. What gives any of us the arrogance to make that claim?
Just hours after the synagogue tragedy, hundreds of neighbors of diverse faiths gathered at Rancho Bernardo Presbyterian Church, a block from Chabad, to pray. The service, co-led by local Christian and Jewish religious leaders was interactive and spiritual. Congregants introduced themselves and shook hands with stranger-friends, while saying, “Peace be with you.” After Rev. Mark McKone-Sweet of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church called for ten minutes of silent prayer, it occurred to me that closing my eyes in a sanctuary, to relax into prayer, is now a luxury for American Jews, whose eyes will fly open at the sounds of a banging sanctuary door or a book accidentally dropped on the floor.
When Cantor Lori Wilinsky-Frank of Temple Adat Shalom led the crowd in singing “Oseh Shalom,” a song asking God to grant us peace, hundreds of voices sang the word “shalom” together. It began to erase the wariness of “others” that is empowered by fear-mongers, building walls instead of bridges between the diverse groups in our communities. Interfaith cooperation is essentially bridge-building — and is essential in these times.
Our Poway Interfaith Team was called only weeks ago to support one of our Muslim member communities in Escondido after their mosque was set ablaze, allegedly by the same man who shot the Chabad worshipers. Vigils and volunteer interfaith security teams quickly formed to enable our Muslim neighbors to pray in peace.
Likewise, our Muslim neighbors and leaders showed up six months ago for multiple vigils in memory of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims. This past weekend, I heard talk among the interfaith community about beefing up vigilance for Latino churches in our neighborhoods, because immigrants, Muslims, and Jews are all targets of white supremacists in our particular area of California.
Christians in this country are not immune to hate crimes, either, especially if they are people of color, like the worshipers in the recently attacked African-American churches. Despite white supremacists’ claims of upholding Christian values, the majority of peaceful, loving, American Christians do not recognize them as people of faith, just as the majority of peaceful, loving, American Muslims do not recognize the haters who have polluted their faith by claiming it as justification for murder. The enemy of peace seems to be the very notion of supremacy: the assumption that any human being is worth more than another.
How can we counter anti-Semitism — and hate in general — after the flowers and cards have turned soggy in the rain outside Chabad, and after the vigils have stopped? What seems most meaningful to me would be for our non-Jewish faith leaders to deliver sermons and lessons that dispel the inherent notions of supremacy in all of our religious teachings — new lessons that, in essence, teach “anti-supremacy,” the idea that no one religion, nationality, race or creed can declare superiority over another without contradicting our shared values of peace, love, compassion, and respect.
And if our Interfaith leaders could then send copies of such sermons and lessons to Jewish community leaders (and better yet, ask their students to include their own written responses to such sermons), that would heal our community. Just as the Rancho Bernardo LDS church invited all faiths to participate in their recent exhibition/celebration called “The Moses Tabernacle,” we should strive to increase interfaith celebrations in our city, or simply invite each other to attend events. POINT sponsors an annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service, usually the week before Thanksgiving, because gratitude should be shared.
Active efforts to educate away the wariness toward “Others” and to build bridges through interfaith education and cooperation matter more than “thoughts and prayers.”
Header Photo: Wikipedia