I find myself in a spirit of both despair and resolve. Despair about events in the world, resolve to do my part to make it better.
The brutal attacks by Hamas that killed hundreds of Jews in southern Israel, including teenagers at a music festival, shocked me speechless. My teenage son went to his first music festival this past summer. My mind can’t even go there.
I know people who know people who were personally affected, including Interfaith America board member Rabbi Josh Stanton, whose cousin is still missing and likely a hostage. The pain is deep and personal.
Also, Hamas does not represent Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims.
Also, Palestinians in Gaza live in deplorable conditions that are getting worse by the minute.
These are truths that should not be hard to say together.
We have a focused and essential role to play at the organization I lead, Interfaith America.
As our name suggests, we do not engage or comment on international incidents other than saying the humane and obvious. I will say some version of the above when I speak to the media, and not much else regarding the Middle East.
The first thing we do is show care. My spiritual leader, the Prophet Muhammad, led with mercy, gentleness, and kindness. I strive to do the same.
I have been reaching out to everyone I know who may have a personal connection to Israel or the Palestinian territories with a message of care.
The second thing we do is encourage cooperation between people of diverse identities and divergent ideologies in the United States. That work will be more critical than ever in the coming weeks and months. The American idea is that people from the Earth’s four corners, nurturing different loyalties and praying in different ways, can come together on this patch of land and build a nation. That is an aspiration worth achieving. It is the focus of our work at Interfaith America.
Mr. Rogers would tell kids witnessing a crisis to look for helpers. People will be looking to us, and we will be there.
I want to close with the first and last stanzas of one of my favorite poems, William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.