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Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

With an Honest Heart

by Samantha Kirby

My grandmother was many things: a piano teacher, a Chicagoan, a coffee aficionada -- and a pioneer.

I added that last part after she passed away, when I learned that she had graduated from Northwestern University in 1944, about twenty years before NU removed its quota for Jewish admissions. By the time I was an undergraduate shivering through my years in Evanston, it was hard to believe that the campus, with its thriving Jewish community, had ever tried to restrict its number of Jewish students. I couldn't imagine my grandmother walking the same streets as I had but feeling like a second-class student.

In September, I went back to my alma mater to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. I don't know how my grandmother would have reacted, but imagine my surprise when the last thing I saw before entering was this vile sign: "Your Rabbi is a Whore."

A hateful group with a hateful message had chosen to picket services that night, during a special time of celebration and renewal.

The saddest part of this story is that when I came into work at Interfaith Youth Core (a nonprofit working to build interfaith cooperation) the next day, I realized that I understood on a visceral level something my Muslim colleagues had been discussing -- how nervous they felt to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan, just a few days later. They were anxious about going to their mosques for prayers. They were worried their kids were going to be terrorized on the playground for missing school for the holiday.

I wondered what else we could expect, when the news was dominated with stories like a Muslim cab driver being stabbed in the throat, arson to a proposed mosque in Tennessee, and protests at Islamic centers across the country from California to New York. We have national figures such as Newt Gingrich saying, "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.... There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center," as if being a Nazi could possibly compare to someone trying to build an interfaith community center.

It was all a crystal-clear sign of what we're getting wrong in America right now -- the "us" versus "them." Let's remember that the "us" is everyone, all Americans, of every faith and no faith at all, and the "them" are those who seek to destroy the very values we are surrendering now as a country -- freedom, pluralism, and the American ideal of equality.

Part of my call to heal the world is to restore these values, using inspiration deeply rooted in the Jewish principles of social justice, to continue drawing America's great arc of inclusiveness bigger and broader. In other words, tikkun olam is working toward a future in which the same arc that enveloped American Jews envelops all of our neighbors. And for me, that means building interfaith cooperation: bringing together diverse people to both understand one another better and serve the common good.

It's the only way that I'll be able to say never again with an honest heart.

Samantha Kirby is Interfaith Youth Core's Communications & Policy Specialist. The Youth Core is a Chicago-based nonprofit building interfaith cooperation around the world.


Source Citation: Kirby, Samantha. 2011. With an Honest Heart. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive. 

 
tags: Anti-Semitism, Interfaith  
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