Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

font size: +

A view from the pew

|| Tell-a-Friend || Print

Interfaith work at the Episcopal church’s triennial

Last week I spent three days in Salt Lake City, Utah, attending the Episcopal church’s triennial convention, as a representative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, where I am honored to sit as a national board member.

While visiting Salt Lake City I also had the opportunity to attend Shabbat morning services at Kol Ami, the local synagogue, and interact with members of the local Jewish community. My “View from the Pew” at both the convention itself, and from Kol Ami, left me inspired by both the challenges and opportunities that we have, in both the areas of intra-Jewish and interfaith relationships.

At the Episcopal church convention, I was welcomed with warmth and appreciation. This church has a strong and sincere commitment to interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The JCPA and the office of the presiding bishop have a longstanding and strong working relationship in confronting issues of social justice, nationally and internationally, as well as a strong commitment to mutual respect. One of the many moving moments for me at this convention was seeing an exhibit of a U.N. refugee tent along with a 3D video of a young Syrian girl who lives in such a tent in a refugee camp in Jordan. My suggestion to church leaders that the Episcopal and Jewish communities, hopefully with other faith community partners, could jointly sponsor the display of this tent this fall at the U.N. was met with enthusiasm. This church is deeply committed to both social justice and the interfaith partnership.

The Episcopal church, whose roots in America go back to colonial days, is part of the worldwide Anglican Church Federation. It is facing many of the same challenges that our Jewish community is confronting in the rapidly changing ways that 21st century Americans relate to and interact with one another. In my three days in Salt Lake City I experienced some truly transformative worship and listened as priests and laity wrestled with issues of liturgical change and questioned their church’s ability to reach their next generation. Their debates sounded strikingly familiar to me, similar to our own internal Jewish struggles.

I also witnessed and shared with them sorrow over Charleston and joy over the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. I was privileged to be a dinner guest at a gathering of 16 religious leaders on Friday night of the church’s presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She began the dinner by saying Shabbat shalom to the assembled interfaith representatives from across America and around the world, and then turned to me and asked me to recite the Sabbath kiddush. During her nine-year tenure, Bishop Katherine has been a strong opponent of using BDS to express concern over Israeli policy, and she has led multiple Episcopal and interfaith missions to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Her election was a breakthrough for Episcopalians, whose leaders had been white males for more than two centuries. Last Saturday afternoon, I was present when Bishop Michael Curry, an African American, was elected as the next presiding bishop. After centuries of white male leadership, this church is re-creating itself to reflect the diversity of Christian America.

In addition to its deliberation on internal issues, and its welcoming of interfaith guests, the weeklong convocation was dealing with a large agenda of social concerns, both domestic and international. Irrespective of the warmth and respect with which the representative of the American Jewish Committee and I — and also an amazing young Israeli social entrepreneur — were received, there definitely was a full spectrum of views on the Middle East. Among the seven resolutions that dealt with Israel and Palestine that were up for consideration, one included language calling for divestment from companies that do business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Along with two young men who lead a program called Shades, which has undertaken a unique dialogue program between Israeli and Palestinian foreign service personal, I had the chance to participate in the church’s social justice and international concerns committee debate on Israel Palestine issue.

This is what I shared with our friends in the church:

“Thank you for the opportunity to sit in on your committee’s discussions this afternoon.

“I want to commend members of this for the civility of your discussion. I also was most impressed by the depth of understanding of the complexity of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that your multiple resolutions under consideration reflect. The contemporary Middle East lives under the clouds of intra-Islamic struggles as well as conflicts between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, that date to the Middle Ages, as well political conflict between Israel and her Arab nation-state neighbors that are a result of the still unsettled issues of WWI.

“As your committee heard from the young Palestinian and Israeli leaders of Shades, a new initiative that promotes dialogue among Israeli and Palestinian young diplomats, there are some very positive though not yet fully illuminated, sparks of hope for intergroup dialogue cooperation, and ultimately mutual acceptance, that is arising among a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians.

“Coupled with the very positive report I heard today, regarding your community’s investment in the Bank of Palestine over the past few years, I would hope that the resolution(s) that ultimately emerge from your deliberations will be positive and proactive and not include divestment language.

“Both from listening to your deliberations today, and to the many one-on-one conversations I have had with delegates, in the hallways, I know that the Episcopal Church community, similar to the majority of the Jewish community believes that ‘two States for two Peoples’ is the only workable solution to the century-long conflict. I want to thank the Episcopal Church for its continuing constructive role in working toward this goal.”

As I write this column the convention is still in session and the committee was in closed session, seeking to rewrite a resolution. Therefore I cannot tell you what resolutions on the Middle East, if any, ultimately will emerge before the conference ends on July 2. I can say that I heard true expressions of support for Israel and for concern for the plight of Palestinians.

I cannot end this column without a word about my Shabbat morning experience.

In my last column I wrote of the need for us to rethink our communal delivery system. In Salt Lake City, Kol Ami is a synagogue that is both Reform and Conservative, and holds parallel services every Shabbat, where both communities come together for the conclusion of the service,  including their rabbi’s sermon, Kaddish, and a kiddish lunch. The synagogue is led by a dynamic young rabbi, who is the daughter of a contemporary of mine, an inspirational cantor, and a large cadre of dedicated and liturgically skilled lay leaders. Last Saturday, like many colleagues across the country, the rabbi spoke about Charleston and its implications. She made the challenging claim that Americans must not use the issue of the Confederate flag as a diversion from facing the real issue of racism that permeates our society and our own communities. She called upon her congregants to join her in outreach to the African American, Native American, and Muslim communities in Salt Lake City.

The lessons I learned in three days in Salt Lake City were that that we are blessed to live in a time and place where Jews and Judaism are far more accepted by our Christian neighbors and their churches than ever before in American history. Interfaith understanding that leads to mutual respect and interfaith action that can lead us to real social change are, as the events in Charleston reminded us all, challenged by the fear of the stranger. In conversation with one of my new Christian friends, a bishop from Maryland, we agreed that our mutual responsibility is to teach and model for others. We realized that the command in Leviticus 19, “love your neighbor as yourself,” must be taken as a serious challenge, not a platitude.

As I look back on last weekend and look forward to July 4th, our American Independence Day , when we coincidentally will read Parshat Balak, where curses are turned into blessings, I see a challenge to both appreciate our blessings as American Jews in the 21st century, and to work together with our fellow Jews, and with our fellow Americans of other faiths, to continue to repair the tears in the fabric of our world.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz
Rabbi Neal Borovitz is rabbi emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and past chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print

Stay tuned for the return of comments



A view from the pew


Toward an end to gun violence

It is not entirely foreign to Jews to imagine being massacred at prayer.

This is not even a question of historical memory, although our story overflows with such murderous episodes. No, we just have to think back to last November, when assassins burst into a synagogue at Har Nof, in Jerusalem, and butchered four men there as they stood lost in the Amidah, the silent prayer at the heart of the service.

Then the killers slaughtered a Druze policeman who tried to protect the daveners.

Last week, a crazed, racist 21-year-old, a loser with a bowl haircut, dead eyes, and a gun, went into the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston, like Jerusalem, is an old city (although of course here in the New World we measure age in centuries; in Israel it’s in millennia). It’s been at the heart of the slave trade, and so represented evil, but it is also beautiful, graceful, quirky, and a bustling tourist destination.



Thoughts on identity

1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31