Good News in Religions

Sacred texts at the US Capitol

I want to share good news.  I expect some will read this blog and respond as doubters and find exceptions – it is the times we live in today.  Good news is just that… good news, not perfect news.  Sometimes it is appropriate to see fears and divisions but we cannot lose the ability to see good things around us as well.  Good news feels increasingly rare.

So let’s remember religious diversity is lived in beautiful ways.

The picture above was shared with me by someone at CNN.  It is a table at Capitol Hill covered by the diverse sacred texts upon which the newest members of Congress were sworn into office for the 116th Congress.  There were Bibles, Koran, Buddhist Sutra, Hindu, Eastern Orthodox and an African Heritage Bible.  Senator Kyrsten Sinema did not use a religious text but rather a copy of the Constitution.

The good news is there is now greater religious diversity in Congress than ever before.  While the religious makeup of our representatives is still not in line with the general population (click here to learn more) our leaders symbolically lift up Americans’ diverse religious and cultural voices.

Religious diversity is core to American values.  As an example, Federalist Paper #10 speaks extensively about the concern of our country breaking down into factions.  It is a powerful piece relevant in many ways to today. (click here to read)  In the penultimate paragraph, James Madison wrote about the diversity of States and of religions as a natural bulwark against overpowering factions.

“The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.”

Thus, greater diversity of religious faiths held by our nation’s leaders will help guard against oppression by the majority.  Increasing religious traditions in the halls of Congress is good news. Factionalism is still pervasive but maybe this will help in slight ways.

Recently I experienced the celebration of religious diversity in other ways.  While in Israel on the Sorkin Israel Youth Trip last week, the 18 Confirmation Class students (16 tenth graders and 2 eleventh graders), stopped in Haifa for the ‘Holiday of Holidays’  החג של החגים  celebrations.

 

Haifa is a city of mixed faiths.  For the past 25 years, they have celebrated their religious and cultural diversity through this festival.  You can see in the picture that at the center of the celebration is the Christian cross on the tree, the Chanukiah on the Star of David and the Islamic crescent. All of this takes place under the Bahai Shrine which is to the right in the picture.

I am not deluded; this is not a panacea.  But, it feels good to be hopeful.  There are places and moments in our lives where we can let good news catch our attention.  The work in Congress and in Israel is fraught with difficulties.  I am not concerned that we will lack concerns.  I am concerned though that it is too easy to overlook the glimpses of goodness which we are surrounded by each and every day.

The blessing upon hearing good news is:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם הַטּוב וְהַמֵּטִיב

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu meleach ha’olam hatov v’ha’meitiv.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who is good and causes good.

May we find many reason to use this blessing!

 

PS – If you are interested in the next Beth El trip to Israel, families are signing up now to join me this summer – July 7-18, 2019.  Let me know if you want to go to Israel together! (gharris@bethelmc.org)

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris

7 comments

Thank you Rabbi Harris for a wonderful article!

Reminded me of my childhood in Bogotá. Early December, I would join my Catholic neighbors in their hikes to the surrounding mountains, collecting moss, miniature flowers and strawberries, leafy twigs – whatever would look good in the crèches everyone set up in their homes.

In return, they would expect a piece of Matzah, spread with butter and salt. Unfortunately, my mother could only share a taste with the many kids, as Matzah was imported from the USA and sold equitatively among the Jews in the community, and there was never enough!

Those were the times……

May it be a very good year 2019!!

Best regards,
Reina

Gabriela Bebchick

Hi Reina and Rabbi Greg,
Our Schul in Montevideo baked Matzot and my mother, z.l. always took a plate stacked high to our next door neighbors, who came from Spain and were Catholic. And I always celebrated Nochebuena=Xmas Eve at their house.

I grew up in an apartment building in NYC and we were a fairly mixed group of Jews and Christians. We always celebrated Christmas and Chanukah together in our common space with a big party.There were no members of the Islamic faith in our building but I have no doubt they would have been included. Anti-antisemitism did not exist among our neighbors as it might have in the outside world. I have to believe it played an important role among my childhood friends in our life-long acceptance of each other regardless of our religions.

Miriam Israel

Thank you Rabbi Harris for reminding us that we are surrounded by “glimpses of goodness” and that we need to focus and recognize them in our daily encounters. I was a WWII baby in Europe and speak from experience.

Linda B Kolko

Thanks, Rabbi Greg for a very hopeful and uplifting reflection.

Sarah Birnbach

While I agree with the embracing of diversity in your post, I am concerned that three of the new female members of the House of Representatives have openly criticized Israel and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- NY) in particular, has indicated she will vote against any aid to Israel. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) has also expressed anti-Israel sentiment and Betty McCullom (D-MN) has called Israel an “apartheid” state. As a feminist and a Zionist I have mixed feelings — I am proud that more women are serving in Congress than ever before. Yet I am worried that some of these newly-elected Democratic women are not friends to Israel. I applaud this diversity while I fear for the future of Israel. I guess this is the meaning of cognitive dissonance.

Thank you for the responses. I too am concerned about specific positions of some of the newly elected officials – issues related to Israel (Tlaib and others), women’s health (Steube and others), the boarder wall (Miller and others). My message is that diversity enriches conversations and debates thus pushing against the power of factions. I look forward to people joining me on the Hill and other places for pro-Israel advocacy. But I recognize even that term means different things to different people. So let me reiterate, “we cannot lose the ability to see good things around us”.

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