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Shabbat Shuvah, 5771/2010
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Thank you for your interest in my High Holy Day sermon. I hope you enjoy reading it. Please note that this material is under my copyright. You have my permission to forward it in its entirety, but not excerpted, as long as you include this disclaimer. I am sorry for these conditions, but they save me a lot of explaining on the other end!...Jack Moline

Shabbat Shuvah, 5771/2010 * * * Islam * * * ©Rabbi Jack Moline

Honestly, I didn't know what I would talk about today, and the last thing I wanted to do was to write another sermon. But things conspired to choose today's topic, and rather than trust my extemporaneous skills after two days of high output, I realized that what I want to say needs to be more formal.

Today is Shabbat Shuvah, and a request came to all of the rabbis in the United States from a group of rabbis from across the religious spectrum to speak about Islam. Their motivation, frankly, is to attempt to stem the tide of Islamophobia that is sweeping through the country. Of course, the stupidest practitioner of this particularly vile stream of bigotry is the pastor in Florida who planned to burn copies of the Qur'an even as we speak. On every imaginable level – from book burning to foreign relations – this is the worst idea to come down the pike in recent memory. I would like to add, however, that it is perfectly legal and protected by both the Constitution and the State of Florida. The only possible legal objection would come from local ordinances about open fires. Ain't that America.

And speaking of bad ideas that are protected by federal, state and local laws, the construction of the Muslim community center in the neighborhood of Ground Zero is in the same category. The organizer has shown exquisitely bad judgment, not only in choosing the site, but in sticking to his guns in the face of the torrent of emotion it has released.

There is no better example of these phenomena than the sermon a colleague of mine delivered on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. You don't know him, I am sure, and I won't embarrass him by introducing him by name. But the sermon was an objection to the community center on the basis of what an awful and dishonest human being the organizer is. He spent a lot of time authenticating his claim that Imam Rauf is a poseur and misrepresents his personal importance, and further calling into question the laudatory self-description of the Cordoba Foundation. He attaches both the man and the organization to the former president of Malaysia, a notorious anti-semite, as well as to all sorts of ne'er-do-wells in the world of Islam. Frankly, I have no idea and no opinion about the veracity of all these charges, or whether they are contextually fair.

The rabbi concludes the sermon with a joke, which he sets in Paris. It is a riff on a type of joke we all know. A little girl is attacked by her pet pit bull. A man rushes up and grabs the dog around the neck and breaks it, saving the girl. A reporter mistakes the man for French and praises his deed. When the man identifies himself as Israeli, the reporter says, "In that case, the headline will read `Israeli Aggressor Kills Little Girl's Dog.'"

That's the end of the sermon. I wrote to him and asked him what improvement in the lives of his listeners he hoped to inspire. He answered me, but not well.

So the first thing I want to say about Islam is that if we use situations like this to inflame our prejudices, then we might as well have held the match to the pile of Qur'ans in the front yard of the Florida church.

I am a contributor to the "On Faith" feature on Newsweek and Washington Post. And this week's question was "have we healed from 9/11." My response was brief, so I share it with you now.

Americans are famously impatient. We seem to be of the belief that a memorial structure, a piece of legislation or a celebrity telethon can bring us to terms with tragedy and allow us to move on. We haven't healed yet from the obscenity of slavery; how can we expect to put September 11, 2001 in our "out basket?"

As Jews, we should be well aware of the danger of nurturing pain. We have thousands of years of examples on which to reflect, and we have rightly institutionalized the memories of national disasters so that we do not forget the victims nor, at least as importantly, the circumstances that led to their victimization.

And it has taken hundreds of years, in some cases, for anything resembling healing to be achieved. Expelled from Spain in 1492, it was five hundred years before the heirs to that act welcomed Jews back to their homeland. We had cause to be cautious until the offense was repudiated.

So, no, we have not healed and we won't heal until such time as reconciliation is pursued from both sides, on terms that are equivalent but certainly not equal. Those responsible for the act, even from a distance, must take the steps necessary to ensure no such murders occur with the excuse of their values again. And those on whom the murders were inflicted -- we, the people of the United States -- must cultivate a willingness to recognize that contrition and change when we see it.

It's a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

So that's my second thing to say about Islam – that we cannot simply will a sense of separation from the events of nine years ago into our hearts. There is a lot of work ahead of all of us, and to pretend that the Islamic world, both the fully American adherents of Islam and the students sitting in madrassas far from contact with anything but their religion, need not change is foolish. In fact, until Muslims come to terms with the inherent triumphalism in Islam, as much of the Christian world has been forced to do, the rightful suspicion of moderate Muslims is not going to dissipate.

And the last thing I want to say about Islam is articulated beautifully by the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Arnold Eisen. He throws a bucket of cold water on all of those who hope to prevent Muslims from building mosques or creating a Palestinian state or even attempting to disrupt the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction: Muslims will not go away. With a population of a billion four in this world, Muslims will neither be eliminated nor contained, nor should they be.

Whether you consider that, as I do, a remarkable opportunity or, as you should not, an unfortunate reality, the fact of the matter is that it behooves us to learn as much about Islam as we have learned about Christianity. It behooves us to befriend our neighbors who are Muslim as we befriend our neighbors who are Catholic and Protestant. It behooves us to proudly share our Jewishness – with neither apology nor understatement – with our Muslim partners in this society as we do unashamed with the secular and Christian authorities with whom we interact in public and private.

I hear an awful lot about restricting this and bombing that and, most of all, how there are no Muslims we can trust. Shame on you for those conclusions. I know another man, a man who used to be a well-respected scholar but who is now nothing more than a faucet of bigotry cloaked in so-called research, who finally acknowledged that not all Muslims are out to eliminate us, but that the problem is you never know who is concealing murderous intentions, and therefore they must all be treated as if they were out to get us. Lots of people – including this blasphemous idiot in Florida who is pretending that burning someone's sacred book will do anything but inflame their hatred – take comfort from this nonsense. I consider it a violation of the basic premise of Torah, that we recognize the image of God in all human beings, to dehumanize a person on the basis of faith.

I am aware of the danger of delivering messages like these. My words, which will be posted on our listserv, will be excerpted and presented out of context by people inside our community and outside our community to illustrate how I am leading our people to another holocaust. I can't stop them from reaching those conclusions or from threatening me and my family just one small step inside the law. I can't stop them from hiding their identities behind an electronic cloak because they are too cowardly to expose their own prejudice and dishonesty.

It is, in the end, a small risk I take to speak these truths: inflaming prejudice is wrong; there is much work to be done by everyone before the wounds of 9/11 in 2001 will begin to heal; we live in a world that includes a huge number of Muslims and we need to facilitate learning about them and with them.

And nine years later, as we think about the day that changed a lot in this world, those are lessons I hope you will take to heart.

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