February 22, 2007
When Ashkenazi and Persian worlds collide—community healing begins at shul
(Page 2 - Previous Page)I do not want an "us" and a "them." If you are not really ready to be part of one community, which means to have friends, to marry, to rejoice together, to grieve together, then all I can tell you is you should find another place. But I think that you are, I hope and pray and believe that you are.
This is the only synagogue I know of that has this kind of melding of populations. But it is common in every American city. This offers us an exceptional opportunity. Imagine what would happen, and I'll say what will happen, when over the next few years we forge an integrated community. What a model, not only for this city -- which God knows desperately needs it -- but for this country, for our brothers and sisters in Israel and even for the world.
Because if we cannot do it here in one synagogue, in one sanctuary, then I despair for the future of humanity.
A final point. The principle way this will get done is if we make an assumption of good will. Our two communities have bruised each other, but it is not because they wanted to hurt.
Rather one side was angry or defensive and the other shocked and bewildered, and each was unable to understand why the other did not see the world as they did.
We have to assume that we care about each other and that if someone hurts you they don't do it because they are terrible but because they are human.
Sooner or later your children and grandchildren are going to be part of an America where they will be, no matter their ethnic derivation, a minority.
They are going to live in a city or work in a state where most of the people aren't going to be like them. How they will act depends in part on you, because you will model for them what it is like; if you go home and say, "You know it is a good synagogue but I can't stand the fact that there are all those Persians there," they will learn.
Believe me, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, you will hear the same sentence from them except with another group. You will wonder, "Where did my kids pick up all this prejudice?"
It is up to us to teach our children what it is to embrace and tolerate those who are both the same and different. This is the single most important task that not only the synagogue, but this world has to do. When we speak about being an "Or LaGoyim" a light for the rest of the world, it means we teach not how to do the easy things, but how to do the hard things.
So begin this morning. When at the end of the service I ask you to turn around and say hello to someone you know, find someone from a community that is not your own. Do more than say hello. See to it that you get to know someone. Learn about them.
Even love them.
"Kol Yisrael araivim zeh lazeh" -- all of Israel, every color, from every land, all over God's world are responsible for one another.
Some of us have been acting that way, and for that I thank you and applaud you.
It is time we all did.
David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood. He has taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, The University of Judaism, Hunter College, and now teaches at UCLA. He is the author of six books, and was named by The Forward as "one of the 50 most influential Jews in America" and by Los Angeles Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Angelenos.
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