There is a plate in my office, beautifully painted with my name, that was a gift from the Istanbul Cultural Center six years ago after I spoke at their Table of Abraham Dinner. The event, held annually at different houses of worship, features three speakers, one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim, each of whom explain how one common value is expressed in their religion. After I spoke about what Judaism can teach us about aging and respecting the elderly, it was so beautiful to hear the similarities and differences as we learned of a Christian and Muslim approach, and the same was true the next year when I joined a panel speaking about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. I was honest, sharing how some have used our text to limit this ideal, especially during times in which we were facing oppression, but I ended by teaching about the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber:
V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – rather than love your neighbor as yourself, Buber translates the verse as love your neighbor for he or she is like you. For Buber, neighbor includes any person with whom anyone has an interaction at any point, and he reminds us that every single person with whom we have an interaction shares commonalities with us. All humans are created in God’s image, he reminds us, and loving all people means seeing the Divine in all people, that element we all share no matter how different we are.
And this is what is so special about this event. After learning about an important commonality between all of our faiths, everyone proceeds to a dinner, sponsored by the Center, at which we are encouraged to sit with those we don’t know, learning about the similarities we share not in our religions, but as individuals. We are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. We may share careers, hobbies, or other interests. It is this kind of connection that allows us to see that about which Buber wrote. We are not able to see ourselves in the other until we allow ourselves to see the humanity of the other.
I am so pleased that Schaarai Zedek was asked to host this year’s Table of Abraham Dinner, and I hope that many of you will join us the evening of March 28th. The theme of this year’s event is Pluralism. To be pluralist is to go a step beyond tolerance. Tolerance is one allowing for others to be different than they are while pluralism is embracing it, accepting the fact that what is considered true by one does not have to be accepted by another, especially in the case of a truth that cannot be proven. While so many turn from religion, seeing it as a source of hatred and war, the value of pluralism exists in all of our faiths. I look forward to participating in the panel once again, learning from the Christian and Muslim perspective as well, for this kind of sharing will help instill this extremely important value in all of us and will help make our little corner of the world, the greater Tampa community, one in which we live side by side with all of our neighbors in mutual respect and peace.
– Rabbi Joel Simon