Mosques in America: Rabbi Hillel, George Washington, & my grandma
When I look for teachings to guide Jewish thought and action toward the plans for a cultural center in Lower Manhattan that is rooted in Islam and therefore open to the world, as the 92d street YM-YWHA in New York City is rooted in Judaism and therefore open to the world, there are three teachings that rise up for me:
The ancient Rabbi Hillel, 2,000 years ago; our first President, more than 200 years ago; and my own grandmother, almost 70 years ago.
What they all taught convinces me that it is not only the constitutional right of the peace-committed Muslims of the Cordoba Initiative to build a community center in Lower Manhattan, but they are ethically right and profoundly wise to lift there a beacon:
A beacon of truth, of hope, of peace to vanquish the hatred and despair and violence that murdered 3,000 people of many different nations and many different faiths in the World Trade Center.
First, Rabbi Hillel, 2,000 years ago, interpreted the teaching of Torah -- "Love your neighbor as your self" to mean: "Do not do to your neighbor what would be hateful to you if your neighbor acted in that way toward you. This is the whole Torah; all else is explanation. Go and study!"
Secondly, the very first president of the United States wrote, in a letter to the synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, during his very first year in office:
"For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
"May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
Today, happily, the people of the United States count among the "Children of the Stock of Abraham" the Muslim community -- the children of Abraham and Hagar through Ishmael - as well as the Jewish people. It is altogether worthy that our 44th president has echoed the first one: To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.
Third, I recall the wisdom of my own grandmother, taught me when I was about seven years old - and never forgotten. She interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously in 1940 about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!"
My Polish-born grandmother was a lot better American than those who - not only in Manhattan, but in many other towns and cities across our country - have opposed the placing of a mosque in one or another neighborhood. This is America, and we must not act like that!
As for the planned Park51 cultural center in Lower Manhattan and whether it is "wise" to create a cultural center there with Muslim roots:
The real-estate developer who bought this land, a member of Imam Rauf's existing Sufi-oriented mosque in Lower Manhattan, fell in love with the patterns of Jewish Community Centers and Y's in Manhattan, He sought land for such a center where Muslims and their neighbors in Lower Manhattan could reach it --- and was ready to buy space on 23d Street, till the financing fell through. He was not focused on the tip of Manhattan.
But then space did become available -- not, as falsely claimed by some anti-Muslim bigots, on "hallowed ground" -- but two long New York City blocks from Ground Zero, and hidden from the WTC site by tall buildings in the way.
I have known Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan for years as Muslims committed to peace and serious interfaith dialogue. Given the piece of luck --- or Providence! -- in where the space was found, I have no hesitation in saying it is not only their constitutional right to build the community center there, but they are ethically right and profoundly wise to lift there a beacon:
A beacon of the Islam that celebrates the God Who is Compassion. A beacon of truth, of hope, of peace to vanquish the hatred and despair and violence that murdered 3,000 people of many different nations and many different faiths in the World Trade Center.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace in the sacred month that is both Ramadan and Elul --
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center
August 16, 2010; 9:51 PM ET
Religious Freedom/Haman Rights
Save & Share:
Previous: Freedom to offend and be offended | Next: A metaphorical journey... of transformation
Posted by: sdr1 | August 18, 2010 11:05 AM
Report Offensive Comment
Posted by: farnaz_mansouri2 | August 17, 2010 9:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment
Posted by: eye95 | August 17, 2010 1:27 AM
Report Offensive Comment
The comments to this entry are closed.