On Friday night, I davened Kabbalas Shabbos with the Patriarch of the Ukranian Catholic Church, the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, senior representatives of the Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Adventist Churches in Ukraine, the head of the Muslim community in Ukraine, and the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine. It was a bizarre thing to see – six men dressed in conspicuous religious regalia sitting in a shul on Friday night, siddurim in hand, beside a man with a long white beard, curly sideburns, and a streimel. Rabbi S., the rabbi of the shul, introduced and welcomed them to the congregation.
I’ve been present when Rabbi S. has welcomed many prominent political and religious figures to his shul, and listening to him do it again on Friday night, this is what struck me about him – he does not hate. He does not criticize or attack groups of Jews or non-Jews or anyone, really. Instead, he reaches out to them, no matter how different they are (and trust me, they don’t come much more different than that) and tries to bring them in. If I had to summarize his approach in one line it would be, “Let’s work together.” We’re on the same team.
Rabbi S. lived in Budapest under Nazi occupation during WWII. He has since devoted his life to promoting interfaith cooperation. He created the Appeal of Conscience Foundation* to promote “peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.” Maybe it had to take a Holocaust to teach us that hatred is a terrible thing, that it kills and destroys and leaves nothing good in its wake. Moreover, it’s unnecessary. We can exist it without it, and that being said, there’s simply no place for it on our world anymore.
You don’t reach people by hating them. You don’t elicit their cooperation by criticizing their beliefs or ways of life. You reach people by accepting them, by respecting them, by showing them that they may find in you an ally, maybe even a friend. That’s an offer most people won’t refuse, and we can accomplish much more by working together than by working apart. I think it’s due to an awareness of this that Rabbi S. invites these people to his shul, and that they come.
In the words of French philosopher and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955):
“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tide, and gravity, we shall harness for G-d the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
* On which the quote “A crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion” is prominently displayed. Totally tangential, but I thought it was great.