"Muslim Americans::Jewish Americans"
"O Lord, Guard my tongue from evil"
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
March 12th, 2011
One of if not my favorite tefilah is the one that concludes each and every Amidah. It is a private meditation and not part of the statutory tefilot. While the other tefilot are written in the first person plural, this is written in the singular. It is just me and God. One to one. Face to face. I find its text to be appropriate in these delicate times, even as the tefilah is timeless.
"O Lord, Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile,
and to those who slander me, let me give no heed.
May my soul be humble and forgiving unto all.
Open Thou my heart, O Lord, unto Thy sacred Law,
That thy statues I may know and all Thy truths pursue.
Bring to naught designs of those who seek to do me ill;
Speedily defeat their aims and thwart their purposes
For Thine own sake, for Thine own power,
For Thy holiness and Law.
That Thy loved ones be delivered.
Answer us, O Lord, and save with Thy redeeming power."
Appended to that is the familiar "Oseh Shalom."
I have watched and read the arguments and responses flying back and forth concerning the hearings held by Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. It is called to investigate the radicalization of the Muslim community in the United States. Perhaps a better tone for the hearings would have been set if they had read this prayer first, before uttering a single word. They were talking about an entire swatch of American citizens, peaceful, productive, invested, equal. While we all share real concerns about safety and security, anything said needed to be done so with sensitivity, humility and respect. Words can impugn with impunity. The voracious 24/7 media repetitively disseminates half-truths and less, with vindictive passion. How many endless loops have you watched on twenty-four hour cable news shows? If it is said often enough and loud enough, even the sane can begin to doubt their sanity.
And we, the Jewish community, understand this phenomenon exceedingly well. If one time would have been enough to dispel a rumor, to right a wrong, why did Pope Benedict XVI have to devote a significant amount of his new book disproving, disclaiming and denying our collective responsibility for the death of Jesus (the Jew)? How much scurrilous venom has been spewed forth at us over the airwaves over the last hundred years, accusing us in this country of every evil under the sun, never mind elsewhere? We know the lash of malicious talk. We have been often accused of doubtful loyalty when we show love for the State of Israel. We have had to come to grips with the likes of Jonathan Pollard, whose name surfaces again and again. What does the shifting Middle America think of us? We of all groups in America must be particularly sensitive, outspoken for the extension of respect to all, vigilant against the vigilantes of right or left, and protective of the civil rights of all citizens. Even if we have nothing new to add to the details of the conversation we wave the bright flag of red, white and blue of caution.
There are things to be said.
In the aftermath of the September 11th, I participated in numerous prayer services in concert with leaders of other faith communities, including our Muslim brethren. We hosted a major service here in this Sanctuary. On the fifth anniversary, we did so again. We will do it on the 10th this fall. We did so to bring this country together, to disparage hate. I have sat shoulder to shoulder with Muslims at civic events when neither of us could eat and just sipped our juice and coffee. In their conflict to erect a mosque on North side, I met with Imad D'maj to see what support I could offer them in what seemed like a clear case of bigotry. He came here several years ago to participate in my edition of a "fireside chat." And Imam Amar Amonette and I study together in an interfaith clergy group convened by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. We both wear head coverings. We both read our holy texts in languages other than English. We both have family living in the Middle East. Am I supposed to look at him with suspicion of what he might be contemplating doing to me, to us? Is he supposed to think of us, what we want to do to him and his community? What either of us what to do to "them"? Not here. Not in America. We both pledge allegiance to the same flag and sing the same anthem.
It is a truth that our communities are not monolithic. I can't speak for all Jews. He can't speak for all Muslims. I can speak about what Judaism teaches. I see the full panorama of Jewish history. I know that Joshua was commanded to take Canaan by force and even exterminate certain groups. By modern standards, that book is not our shining hour. There is a big question of its historicity all together. I know that King Alexander Yannai forcibly converted the Idumeans. We don't do that and haven't for two thousand years. Not every Jew will "Love his neighbor as himself." Not every Jew will follow the ethical commandments. But I can preach and teach of what is wrong and what is right. Imam Amar Amonette doesn't speak for all Muslims at the Islamic Center. He has a very diverse community that comes from communities around the world that have nothing in common and even their Islam is differentiated. Clearly there are episodes in Moslem history that need to be kept in their time and place. There are pieces of Islam, like there are of Judaism, that need to be cordoned off and read out to the margins, to allow the best of our teachings to occupy the center of the faith. The Imam can do in the Mosque what I can do in the synagogue. We can stress the right, the good, the respectful, the complimentary, the honorable, the just.
I don't know what these hearings were supposed to do. I hope that they did not create harm and suspicion where it is not warranted. There is no denying terrorist acts that have occurred in this country and by whom they were done. Leaders of every community, religious, ethnic and political must condemn the sin, not the sinner's community. Particularly because of the global issues of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestinians, and the countries currently in pandemonium, because of 9/11, the Islamic community has a lot of internal educational work, community building work to do, while it shows with a public face that we are all Americans. Everyone – without exception - must loudly condemn acts of violence, or murder, of hate. We all want that our beloved country must be safe and sound, secure and sheltered. For all of us. We all must uphold the core values of truth and justice, honesty and respect, patriotism and loyalty. Every citizen and every elected official is bound to protect our country from the outside, from the inside, from destructive forces and corruptive corrosion of bigotry. What we don't need is a witch hunt. We have had them before. We know their evil.
Congressional hearings can focus a powerful laser beam on what is right in America. They can reveal true patriotism by all the disparate groups that weave the texture of the American broadcloth. They can indicate areas of mutual concern and areas that need mutual work. They can dispel rumor and innuendo. They can unite and not divide. They can bring into harmony peoples of all faith communities and people without a particular faith. I hope that Congressman King and his committee get the message. May they be agents for good even as they seek to protect us from the evil. And when we feel in doubt, we stand up and raise our voices. This is mine.
Oseh shalom…ya'aseh shalom alaynu
May there peace for our community, our people, for all communities, for all peoples;
May all live in peace, under their vine and fig tree, so none shall make us afraid.
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
3330 Grove Avenue
Richmond, VA 23221