Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Finding Common Ground
The countdown has begun for Jews to prepare for Passover, for Christians to get ready for Easter and for Muslims to plan for Ramadan. Most of us have little familiarity with anything but the most superficial trappings of each other’s traditions. Yet the overlapping themes, and practices that focus, among other things, on values—on becoming our better selves—are rarely engaged.
These holidays mark a defining moment for each religion. For Jews, Passover is the central motif of liberation from slavery and the beginning of a period of self-determination. For Christians, Easter is the core resurrection narrative. Ramadan in practice and theme is more closely aligned to the Jewish preparation and introspection connected to the fall Jewish High Holy Days.
For so many Americans, religion has played out in a private sphere, among family within faith communities. People often comment “I’m not religious…but I was born…a ----------- (insert religion)” And religion is often seen as something that divides us or something “I’m not.”
It seems to me that, now more than ever, understanding of religion could be the platform to unite rather than to divide. Our society could benefit from understanding the epic narratives of various religions along with key values of empathy, care for those who suffer, and service, that are promoted so strongly in each religion.
The human condition is fraught with big questions: Why do we exist? What is our purpose in life? Why do we die? Why is there hate and evil? Religions try to address these questions. In addressing these questions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam share common sources, common values while maintaining different orientations to the world.
Up until today, I knew little about Muslim traditions and their connection to Jewish practices and Jewish texts. On Sunday I participated in the annual (third year) Muslim Jewish seder. It wasn’t so much a seder as an enactment of parallel Torah and Koranic texts about the exodus narrative. Sitting around tables equally populated with Muslims and Jews, I engaged in conversations about the similarities and differences expressed in these narratives. I spent two and a half hours beginning to build relationships with my Muslim counterparts.
At Wornick, we teach comparative religion in our middle school, and have begun planning to build relationships between our students and those from a Muslim school in Sunnyvale. The large banner that adorns the landing between our first and second floors is a gift that was given to us by those students. Their school received a banner that our students decorated and signed. Building relationships of understanding is key to understanding ourselves, and to creating a society that cares and is responsible to each other.
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