Faith over Fear: A Call to Conscience

Join us for an interfaith pilgrimage walk on Sunday, December 18 beginning at Washington Hebrew Congregation at 2:00 pm.

Last fall at this time, we gathered – Jew, Christian, and Muslim – to walk hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart from Washington Hebrew Congregation to the National Cathedral and then to the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue. It was a statement of our desire for unity. It was also a spiritual, interfaith protest in response to the xenophobic words against our Muslim brothers and sisters at the start of what would turn out to be America’s most divisive presidential campaign.

What we did not know then was that the words and actions that felt hurtful to Muslim Americans would painfully be shared by immigrants, African Americans, women of every race and faith, and Jews alike. The hateful and racist words on the campaign trail and the anti-Semitic subtleties of the pre-election have in recent days surfaced as if the election was a referendum on the acceptability of public hate. To date, as I write to you a week after the election, there has been a death threat left on the car of a Muslim family in Bethesda, there have also been swastikas painted on schools, on bulletin boards, and in classrooms from elementary schools to universities of higher learning. I have spoken to many who tell me their children do not feel safe.

Faith over Fear: Unity over Extremism was a response to our dissatisfaction with the assault on our sense of civility and decency in public discourse; but now, it must be a call to conscience. The uncertainty of whether the Trump victory would translate into an administration that would call for unity and renounce all forms of hatred or embrace hatred as a tool to rule is waning. Seemingly, this question is being answered in the public arena.

It was President Abraham Lincoln who said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Our house is divided by race, by religion, by economic prosperity, by actual vote. But what cannot be divided is our belief and support for a democracy that values all, and a democracy that demonstrates a sense of civility in public discourse that makes decency and even disagreement equally accepted. A democracy where the betterment of the common weal is not ignored and where no one is made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in America.

A lot has changed, and we are filled with uncertainty. Many wisely call for us to wait and give the President-elect a chance; others have taken to the streets to peacefully voice their dissatisfaction with the hateful expressions that keep surfacing.

What is certain is that our Jewish values have not changed. We know that, from the time of the very first Jew, Abraham, about whom we read in this week’s Torah portion, till this very day, we as Jews have never feared to speak truth to power. Washington Hebrew Congregation has not only spoken truth to power, but has acted on these values.

The Faith over Fear: Unity over Extremism walk started at our front doors, and the NAACP’s modern-day civil rights march from Selma to D.C. ended in our Sanctuary. Washington Hebrew Congregation has been an amalgamator for shared communal values. On Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend and many times throughout the year, clergy leaders of every faith join us hand-in-hand to pray and work for a better tomorrow.

We have never stood on the sidelines when our values are at stake, from turning our building into a hospital during the Civil War to packing meals for the homeless each month to supporting the women of our congregation in fighting for the right to decide, without the interference of legislators, what will or will not happen to their bodies –  we have always answered injustice with activism. It matters not who is in power, Democrat or Republican. What matters is that our values – justice, equality, and freedom – are being actualized. These values were given birth to the world in our Hebrew Bible, and we will not allow them to be denigrated. We are Americans who are informed by our faith, Judaism, which is noble and rich in its respect for the human family, no matter their creed, their color, or their political bent. We understand, and we believe every human being is created in the image of God, and we act accordingly.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, when he fought for civil rights in one of the most hateful times in American history wrote, “This is no time for neutrality. We Jews cannot remain aloof or indifferent. We, too, are either ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil.” This December, we will march again from sanctuary to sanctuary to voice what we believe in, faith over fear, unity over extremism. We hope you will join us knowing that faith, not fear, will help us build God’s promised tomorrow.

We will be holding our interfaith pilgrimage walk on Sunday, December 18 at 2:00 pm. Washington, D.C.’s religious leaders The Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, Senior Rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Johari Abdul Malik of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Catholic Diocese of Washington will lead the interfaith community from Washington Hebrew Congregation to the National Cathedral and the Islamic Center. At each site, there will be a call to prayer, a short scripture reading, and a brief reflection.