We live in an increasingly polarized society. The hate speech in this presidential election season seems to have ginned up talking at and about one another, rather than talking with one another. It’s been said that prejudice comes when we ‘pre-judge’ without getting to know another’s story and perspective.
Here in Beverly, Massachusetts my friend Alison and I recently hosted an evening of conversation entitled: ‘A Rabbi and a Baptist Minister walk into a bar…’ It was intended as a light-hearted way to enter into the serious work of building bridges of understanding. Alison is the rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham and I’m on the pastoral staff at First Baptist Church.
Over a glass of beer or wine we invited members of our congregations to write down questions that we’d both respond to and then open up for wider conversation. We gathered to understand and respect our differences. We also quickly found that we have much in common. After an hour or so we said, ‘let’s do this again’!
At the end of the evening it seemed like a modest step in the long journey of building understanding, respect and friendship.
A week later I saw on the news (myfoxboston.com) that Temple B’nai Abraham had been vandalized. A dollar sign and the words ‘Merry Christmas’ were spray-painted in large letters on the exterior walls near the back door of the temple.
“It’s probably a seven on the Richter scale of stupid,” said temple president Alan Pierce. “It’s hateful, it’s hurtful, and it’s something that needs to wake up the community as to why this happens.”
Rabbi Alison Adler said, with other recent incidents of anti-Semitism occurring locally and globally, she was not surprised by the incident.
“Even if it was a stupid decision by someone, I think what we want to talk about… are the underlying things it might cause,” Adler said. “I think the conversation isn’t just going to be about the vandalism, but really about what propels concerns or fears.”
The temple was targeted once before, in 1989, when a swastika was painted on the front of the building, Mr.Pierce said. “We made the decision to cover it over, but not cover it up. Acts of anti-Semitism or racial intolerance or bigotry or gay bashing are happening in the schools and happening in people’s homes and it’s affecting all of us.”
This is personal for Rabbi Alison and her community at Temple B’nai Abraham. It’s personal for me too.
Vandalism has defiled the walls of the beautiful temple just one block from my house. Hate speech has been inflicted upon friends with whom I broke bread and shared a beer just a week ago. It grieves me that Alison and her family who welcomed my wife and me into their home for Passover, are the victims of hate speech with a Christian subtext. This is personal.
What is the antidote to intolerance? I think it begins with moving outside our own circle and recognizing that there is no ‘them’, there is only ‘us’. The antidote to prejudice is getting to know someone from a different circle, with a different perspective.
The antidote is as simple as sharing a meal.
It’s not about building walls it’s about tearing them down. It’s about building friendships. It’s about coming together. Who are you planning on getting to know?