Yesterday we received at the temple a group of about 25 people from a local senior independent living facility. They were a conglomeration of Christians: Catholics, Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans. If I am not mistaken there were a few atheists in the group as well. While sitting in the pews of our sanctuary, I gave them a brief explanation of all the ritual objects including the Eternal Light, The Menorah, the Memorial plaques, and the inscription on our Jerusalem stone bimah (platform). The one ritual object, however, that stood out above all the rest was the Torah. When I opened the ark, I could see the awe in their eyes. They had never seen a Torah up close.
They all arose from the pews and stood around me at the Torah reading table as I undressed the Torah and opened it up. Their eyes widened and the look of amazement reminded me of the same enthusiasm and wonder that our young people show when we read Torah on Shabbat. They asked excellent questions, for example, about the history of Bible translations and requested that I chant Torah which I gladly did for them.
We then walked over near the entrance to the sanctuary where in a carved out alcove in the Jerusalem stone wall there was a Torah encased in Plexiglas. I explained the history of this special Torah coming from Prague, Czechoslovakia. The Nazis accumulated almost 2000 Torahs from communities they ravaged with the intention of establishing a museum after the War to remind the world that they destroyed the Jewish people. After the war those Torahs were then sent to a synagogue in London and sent out on permanent loan to Jewish communities throughout the world. Beth Yam received this Torah in 1984. The guests stared at it remembering full well the war years. That was a solemn moment in the tour.
Christians want to learn more about Judaism. They see more today than ever before in their history the roots they share with Judaism. They come with an open mind and a positive and accepting spirit to learning about Judaism’s customs and rituals.
Synagogue need to do more to welcome church groups and other religions into our facilities. And we should not be shy about visiting their institutions as well. America needs to celebrate its religious pluralism and diversity. It is in the national interest to get beyond the suspicions and fears. Of course there will always be people in all the faith traditions who avoid interfaith sharing. Sadly too many people see this kind of activity as a waste of time. They do not trust any faith outside their own. But that is not the way we should live in this nation. There is an underlying cynicism in our country which acts like a virus and infects the body politic. We must do what we can to build bridges, create partnerships and foster dialogue even when issues come up where we do disagree. Only by doing this do we have a chance of turning things around in our country. Of course the economy and jobs are what we are all focused upon these days. We have an opportunity to support each other and change the climate to one of hope and optimism. Is this not what God wants of us? Is this not what we need to do to counter the demographic shift away from religious affiliation that appears to be a growing trend? Is this not the time when all religions in our land should strive to restore the trust and confidence in many Americans and people around the world who have given up on religion in order to prove that our faith traditions can make a difference for good in their lives?