“The only reason I didn’t call the media,” the Rabbi told me as we stood at the back of the synagogue, waiting for the first ever Iftar at a synagogue in Utah state history. “Is that I was afraid they’d cover the event but nobody would show up.”
They showed up.
They showed up and they packed Temple Har Shalom in Park City, Utah, Muslims and Jews, sitting together, sharing prayer books and introducing themselves to each other. While American Muslims and American Jews work, live and share community together in cities all over the country, this was the first time these particular communities had met. The fact that it came at a time of great strife in the Middle East made it all the more powerful.
An Iftar is the breaking of the fast that many Muslims adhere to during the holy month of Ramadan. They eat before sunrise, then fast all day, and then break that fast during an Iftar dinner/event after sundown. In this case, the Rabbi changed the synagogue’s regular Friday evening service time to ensure that services would end just as the sun was setting over the beautiful mountains above Park City. So after worshipping together, we sat down and ate together.
In several cases, the participants expressed to me that it was the first time they had ever had a conversation with a person from the other group.
In my sermon, I talked about the importance of loving each other and starting small. Love in this case can’t be a mushy, sentimental emotion. The love that animates our faith traditions is powerful and transformative – it can reshape communities, families, institutions, countries and the world. It moves us to act when action is needed. It moves us to care not just for the people we know and the people we like, but for people we’ve never met, in places we’ve never been. In the face of unrelenting tragedy and violence, in the face of persistent conflict and hate, love is our greatest weapon.
Love – and not merely a desire for civility – must be at the center of a movement to bring our country together. That love compels us not to paper over our differences so that we can “tolerate” each other or whitewash conflict or our difficult past. On the contrary – that love compels us to engage with each other with respect but with a determination to address those difficult issues, to move forward while recognizing our past and to build a better country together.
As David Brooks noted recently, “the only historically proven way to build trust across lines of division is to build things together.”
That is what the One America Movement is all about. Events like the Shabbat Iftar in Park City make us feel good, but that warm, fuzzy feeling is just a launching point to something more important. A first step toward communities taking meaningful action together to address both the divisions in our country and the pressing issues that we face. And that’s exactly what the Jewish, Muslim (and Mormon) members of One America Utah are going to do together.
When services began, the Rabbi told the crowd that he knew that they wouldn’t be addressing difficult issues like the Middle East tonight. “Maybe we need to build more trust first before we talk about an issue as difficult as that,” the Rabbi said. “Maybe next year.”
Love each other. Start small.