Early this February, four Muslim women rang the door to our synagogue. Alzeena Saleem, Sabrina Zubair, Saima Mussani and Seema Zafar were extremely alarmed and upset about the recent spate of bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers throughout the United States. Over the course of three days in January, forty eight JCCs in twenty seven states received nearly 60 bomb threats. One news agency reported that the caller said a plastic explosive bomb had been planted in the facility and that “a large number of Jews are going to be hurt.” The threats caused evacuations from Jewish Community Centers, many of which housed programs for preschoolers. Several Centers saw students withdrawn from their early childhood education programs. Alzena, Saleem, Saima and Seema apparently could not sit by. They wanted to check in on us, their Jewish neighbors, and offer their support. That morning they came to our synagogue bearing flowers, goodies, and a note to our congregation.
“Thank you for making our community and our country richer,” they wrote. America is great and will continue to prosper because of our diversity. We support all of you. We will overcome hate. Love, Naperville Aurora Community American Muslim Moms”.
I imagine that Alzena, Saleem, Saima and Seema came to the synagogue that morning not only to express their love for their neighbors and their dismay at the hatred directed against Jewish communities across the United States. I suspect that they came because they realize that these series of threats represented more than a hate crime against the Jewish religion. They realize that an assault on any one group is an assault on us all. An injury inflicted on any one group in our country tears at the fabric of this nation as a whole. In our nation, children and adults alike are aware that expressions of hate, of intolerance, of exclusion, constitute a blow to the fundamental ideal, articulated in the Pledge of Allegiance: “one nation, under G-d, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. The bigots, the racists and haters among us want to pit some of us against others of us and thereby divide us; the bigots, the racists and haters want to use their freedom to deprive us of our freedom. They want us to forget that G-d has implanted the spark of holiness into each of us — “You shall be holy, because I am holy,” says G-d. We are called upon to act upon the holiness that is in our hearts, to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and to treat our fellow human beings with utmost respect, sensitivity, and compassion.
In this week’s Torah reading we have the mitzvah, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the very life of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” The importance of this mitzvah, which is at the heart of our tradition, is of such magnitude that the Torah repeats it, in one way or another, 35 more times. G-d wants us to treat those who are different from us – whether a different race, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation, whether they are young or aged, rich or poor, able bodied or disabled –with the same compassion and respect as we would want to be treated ourselves.
We live in troubling times. We see antisemitism alive and well on college campuses, and we are deeply disturbed. We see African American churches attacked and burned in the United States and we are horrified. We see anti – Muslim hate crimes rise 67% last year in our nation, and we are outraged. Although Jews constitute less than 2% of the population in our country, we are the targets of over 50% of the hate crimes directed against religious groups. Abroad we have witnessed 100,000 Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia murdered because of their religion. In Syria, in Yemen, and in many African countries we see hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims killed or raped or kidnapped in seemingly endless wars.
So what can we do? We need to meet hatred with love, wherever and whenever hatred rears its ugly head. The first thing that we can do is show up, as those four women showed up at the door of our synagogue a few weeks ago, as 25 Congregation Beth Shalom members showed up at the Islamic Center of Naperville this afternoon in a show of support for the Muslim community. Secondly, we need to step up, as Temple B’nai Israel of Victoria, Texas did recently when a fire of unknown origin destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center. The members of Temple B’nai Israel promptly gave the mosque the keys to their synagogue so they would have a place to worship; step up, as residents of Whitefish, Montana did recently when hundreds gathered in sub-zero temperature to protest the harassment of Jewish citizens by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. Third, we all need to speak up. We need to raise our voices, as individuals and as communities, in our houses of worship, in our schools and in our neighborhoods. We need to raise our voices in the name of love, inclusivity, solidarity, hope, unity, equality and peace.