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A Muslim Community Center? Why Not?

Why Should Jews Care?

by Robin Podolsky with Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak,, September 7, 2010

(Page 8 of 8) Print version

Yes, there is passion here and genuine anguish and competing views of what our nation should be. Therefore, there is politics. The right wing is attempting—with a terrifying degree of success—to turn "Muslim" into an epithet and to get it to stick to our President. Why would Franklin Graham, son of Billy and heir to the mantle of "responsible and mainstream Christian conservatism," refuse to state clearly that he takes the President at his own word about his Christian faith? Why would anyone who looks forward to the day when our current wars are over and our country lives with the Muslim world in peace be anything but overjoyed to have the world see that we elected to lead us an African-American man with a white mother, an Arabic middle name and a confessed faith in Jesus Christ?

We have to live in a world—and yes, still, in a country—that contains some places where "Jew" is thrown at us with the same emphatic satisfaction that one finds in nailing someone for some bad thing they are: "crook!" "murderer!" We do today--but we do not have to accept it as inevitable. Not here and not for anyone. We know the feeling of frustration and utter wrongness—"no, they don't understand, whatever they mean by 'Jew,' it's not what we are, no matter what they are thinking, it's not all there is to us! Don't they know we have a centuries-old tradition of meditation and prayer, of study and debate, interpretation and wild permutations? How can they reduce us like that?"

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How indeed? And what do we want when such things happen—or, as is more often the case, if we are afraid that they might? We want the people around us to take it personally, to refuse to let the bigots speak for them. We want not to be isolated but to be seen. Rabbi Denise Eger, President of the Southern California Board of Rabbis writes:

You all know the very famous story from the Talmud: (Shabbat 31a): A certain gentile came to Rabbi Shammai and said: "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Rabbi Shammai was incensed and repulsed him with a builder's cubit that was in his hand. When he went before Rabbi Hillel, he said to him "What is hateful to you do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereof; now go and learn it.
The Talmud comes to teach us and build upon the Torah principle of loving our neighbor. A simple truth you know how you would like to be treated and how you don't like to be treated. Therefore—don't do what is hateful to your neighbor. And that is the essence of our faith…The essence of our religion. The essence of Judaism is according to Rabbi Hillel—What is hateful to you do not to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. All the rest is but commentary.
We know how we are supposed to act…Why? Because we know how it feels. We know when a line has been crossed. We intrinsically know in part what the good Rabbi Hillel is telling us...
"And so it is with our neighbors then in Talmudic times and with our neighbors today. We ought to know when we have crossed a line.
In recent weeks and days a line has been crossed Some in America have been treating our neighbors in a hateful way.
"Islamophobia has reared its ugly head. All over our country people are talking about a Muslims in increasingly hateful tones. The commotion and questions that have been raised over the Cordoba Initiative's plan to build a Muslim Community Center in lower Manhattan is something we in the Jewish community should be ashamed of. And the ADL – the Anti-Defamation League—our own Jewish organization that fights Jewish discrimination was among those to add fuel to the fires of hatred.
The Cordoba Initiative is an organization that seeks to build ties between the Muslim World and the West. Its board has both Christians and Jews that sit on it. This group has sought to build a community center that would also contain a small mosque in a neighborhood two blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center—known as Ground Zero.
Some have said that building a mosque so close to Ground Zero—since the perpetrators of 9/11 were Muslim extremists is an affront to those who died. That is what the ADL said. Not that the Cordoba Initiative group shouldn't build a center. But build it elsewhere. That still is hateful and hurtful. Are we painting all Muslims with the broad stroke of extremism? That's like saying all Jews want to oppress women and want to settle in the West Bank….As Jews we ought to know better. We know what it is like to be the outcasts of society. To have someone suspicious of our religion. Because we are more accepted now—should we turn and do this to our neighbors? This is an opportunity to build bridges and extend our hands as neighbors. This is a chance to live out the Torah's highest ideals—Love our neighbor as ourselves…
The memories of those who perished at the World Trade Center are not diminished by the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. I believe their memories are honored. For we live in a Country that celebrates Freedom of Religion and Free Speech. These are our American ideals—and they are our patriots who died because America stands for these values. Those that murdered the 3000 plus victims of the World Trade Center on 9/11 that fateful day struck the Twin Towers because we as a country stand for those values and terrorists hate those values.
I am ashamed that some in our country want to diminish those values for others.
So let us learn from our Torah and from Rabbi Hillel—Do not do to others what is hateful to you. And Love your neighbor as yourself.

During this season of reflection, when we are encouraged to face our regrets, apologize and try to do better; do we have the clarity and courage to follow this rabbi's example?

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