February 23, 2020

Facing the Challenge of Preserving Sacred Spaces

Susan Goldberg

More than 50 people representing a wide range of faiths filled Temple Beth Am on the evening of June 25 to stand in solidarity and remember those killed in the shooting attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, as well as the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Held in conjunction with the nonprofit Pacifica Institute, the event, titled “Reclaiming Sacred Space,” focused on how houses of worship face the challenge of preserving sacred space and protecting members.

The event was moderated by Beth Am Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, who was joined onstage by Atilla Kahveci, vice president of the Pacifica Institute; Rabbi Susan Goldberg of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; and Aziza Hassan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“People of faith are trying to reclaim sanctuary as sanctuary, as that word has been taken away from us by evil in this world,” Kligfeld said in his opening remarks. He then introduced Kahveci, who reiterated that despite the recent tragedies, Jews and Muslims in the community stand in solidarity not against each other but against hate. “It strengthens us when people of other faiths support one another to create more everlasting and deep-rooted relationships,” Kahveci said.

Hassan then addressed the crowd, emphasizing how attacks on Muslim and Jews also are happening to people of other backgrounds, including African American churches and other sacred spaces. 

“No one is immune to this,” she said. “We all stand to hurt and to sit in a world of pain, and we have to do something about it. It still feels risky to be in our sacred spaces, and yet what other real options do we have other than put one foot in front of the other and to fill our sanctuaries across all sorts of different religious houses of worship? Because otherwise, where does that leave us? In a place of fear and hate. That’s not the future I see for my children.”

Goldberg said, “It really makes sense to me why it is our houses of worship that are being attacked. It is the place where we go in our traditions to assert what we know is most true. To seek and pursue justice, to pursue love and peace, to say prayers and words repeatedly that weigh up the goodness in ourselves and in God.” 

Both Goldberg and Hassan spoke about their friendship and how they are always there for each other in times of crisis. “When anything happens to a synagogue, the very first people who reach out to me are my Muslim colleagues,” Goldberg said. “It is an unfortunate solidarity because of what it is born out of and yet it’s a beautiful one. In these darks times, there is also such light.” 

“It really makes sense to me why it is our houses of worship that are being attacked. It is the place where we go in our traditions to assert what we know is most true.” — Susan Goldberg

They ended the discussion by emphasizing the importance of developing relationships between different spiritual leaders and building up trust over time to truly express things that are not always pleasant and easy to talk about. 

“We want to have difficult conversations in ways that are very intentional, where we utilize listening but are also speaking and fully embracing our stories,” Hassan said.

The evening concluded with Beth Am Cantor Hillary Chorny presenting a multicolored Torah cover commissioned by the Cantors Assembly, the international association of chazzans affiliated with Conservative Judaism, in honor of the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. 

“It really is a symbol of beauty out of darkness,” said Chorny, who then relayed a message from Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, saying the cover should be used in conjunction with resilience events held with fellow Muslim communities. The cover currently is traveling around the country and will be returned to Tree of Life in time for Yom Kippur.