June 16, 2016

Although the timing was obviously not planned, sharing Iftar with our friends at the Islamic center just two days after the massacre in Orlando was enormously poignant.

The attack in Orlando blended two of the most intense and emotional issues within our society.  One, is the visceral hatred of gay and lesbian people that still bubbles in too many quarters. To me, it is clearer than ever that none of us can any longer stand on the sidelines. It is a time of danger, an עת לעשות, a time to consistently and clearly declare that both in theory and in practice, we fully embrace all human beings, and are committed to upholding everyone's God-given dignity and innate worth, whether they are gay or straight. To be non-committal or timid on this principle, is to unwittingly contribute to the stigmatization that when mixed with religious extremism or mental illness, leads directly to violence.

The other intense emotional issue – and this is the one that made the Iftar so powerful – is about whether the violent terrorism inspired by radical Islam should or should not redound to Muslims generally. This pertains to American Muslims no less, as it is logically impossible  to cast all Muslims who live beyond our borders beneath a net of suspicion, without implicitly doing the same to  Muslims already living here. As a society now, we again stand at a moral crossroads, facing Dr. King's challenge to either judge people by their skin color or religious faith, or to judge them by the content of their character.  It is very hard to make the right choice when we are so afraid. But our ability to do it is the essence of what we mean when we use the term “American Exceptionalism”.

Our Iftar with our friends at the Islamic Center on Tuesday night, was a magical and magnificent testament to our shared commitment to judging people by their moral character, and to driving out darkness not with more darkness, but with light. It was an evening suffused with the genuine human connection, friendship, love,  shared moral vision, and the recognition that a common commitment to the One God can bind people together in a way that almost nothing else can.

Our fears of Islamic terrorism are real and serious. It is a scourge upon the world that must be eliminated (and the American Muslim community continues to be a vital ally to US law enforcement in this regard.) The tool that you and I have in our hands, is the tool of building bridges of acceptance, warmth, and joint community.

May God look upon all His creation with compassion, and give strength and courage to the upright and just.


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