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Kol HaChadoshot

What's news and 'nu' in the Beth David community

August 2018

The story is told about a sweet shtetl community, a few centuries ago somewhere in Europe. The town was one in a circuit of several that shared in the cycle of visits by a beloved itinerant rabbi. The rabbi's mode of transportation was a horse-drawn carriage with a non-Jewish driver. One morning, as the rabbi was bidding farewell to resume his circuit and move on to the next town, a few of the community elders noticed what they had never noticed before. After departing the Jewish neighborhood, the carriage stopped in front of a church; the driver descended his perch and approached the steps of the church where he knelt and prayed for several minutes. He then remounted the carriage and away they went. In an emergency meeting with members of the shtetl, the elders reported on what they saw. They were not happy that their esteemed rabbi was left by the steps of a church so that a carriage driver could kneel and pray. A committee was formed and a few weeks later the committee proudly reported that they had identified a different carriage driver who could be hired to transport the rabbi from town to town; and to everyone's great joy, this new driver was an atheist. There would never again be a need for their rabbi to wait by the curb of a church.
     The rabbi's next visit was a few months later, and the community elders told the rabbi of the new driver and carriage that they had found for him. The rabbi's reaction was not as they expected. Before he began his Torah study for the evening, he took a few moments to explain why he wanted to stay with the services of his original driver. "That man", he said, "might not be Jewish; but he is a religious and God-fearing person.". The rabbi continued, "I travel with my driver sometimes several days between cities, just he and me. I will feel much safer and secure in the company of a man who fears the Lord than in the company of a man who does not believe in God."
     I share this story as a way of expressing my gratitude to this community for its tolerance and support of the dialogues and connections that have been allowed to shorten the distance across Dover Road between Beth David and Saint Thomas Church. They have their agenda and we have ours. They have their mission and we have ours. They embrace their covenant and we embrace ours. But our neighborhood is a better one for the bridges of mutual understanding that have been allowed to connect the two sides of the street. Jessie's Garden and dialogues like "Common Ground" have provided opportunities for people of two different faiths to explore differences in theology while nurturing a spirit of neighborly trust. Like the rabbi in the story taught to his followers, Judaism is safer when in the company of other true and righteous believers, even if their two beliefs are not identical.
     Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote in the prologue to his landmark book The Dignity of Difference, "Crises happen when we attempt to meet the challenges of today with the concepts of yesterday ... when universal civilizations clash, the world shakes, and lives are lost. We will make peace only when we learn that God loves difference and so, at last, must we. God has created many cultures, civilizations, and faiths, but only one world in which to live together - and it is getting smaller all the time."
     It is a journey, just like the distance between two old-world shtetl towns; and the journey will be safer and more fruitful when it is shared with others who are willing to stop and pray.

Wed, August 15 2018 4 Elul 5778