Gathering in and letting go

There is no shortage of difficult news in the world! Lately we have seen horrific violence in Israel, and terror attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Nigeria. We as a global community are on edge. In particular, I want to address the Canadian response to the Paris attacks (which, for a variety of reasons, had the most coverage and greatest response).

We mourn for the victims and with their families. We experience what people typically experience in these most atypical circumstances: shock, horror, sadness, fear, anger, hopelessness, and on and on. In some cases, we can find solace or hope in those who respond by helping, by risking themselves for others, by expressing a commitment to love and life in the face of hate and death. And we align ourselves with those committed to creating a better world, or, Jewishly, working for Tikkun Olam.

In today’s climate, there is a sort of hashtag solidarity that emerges. This time, the hashtag #PrayforParis became popular. But many of us Humanists noted that it is not prayer, but action, that can change the world. Notably, the Dalai Lama said something similar. A believer in God and Buddhism, even he urged that we cannot rely on external forces to create change. We must rely on ourselves. The Paris attacks showed the worst of what humanity is capable of; we need to always work to find the best, to be our best.

In Canada, there has been an immediate response highlighting both sides. On the one hand, a Mosque was burned down in Peterborough, Ontario (where I lived and have worked for many years). This ugly display of Islamaphobia shook us. But then the community responded by raising in excess of $100,000 to support the Mosque in its rebuild. Churches and the one synagogue in town offered up their buildings for Muslim prayer during the rebuilding. The community spoke loudly and clearly that the actions of a few do not represent the feelings of the many. It was a horrible event, with a beautiful response.

Similarly, many Canadians began raising objections to bringing in refugees from Syria, themselves fleeing the kind of terror that is behind the arising fear. Although security experts have stated that the risk in ISIS smuggling operatives through the channels available to refugees is very low, there is understandable fear. And yet there is another current that sees the refugees as part of the core of humanity affected by terror and violence. There are those seeking to protect as many people as possible. We need to be brave (not naive, brave) in the face of fear, terror. And we need always to pursue justice.

As we work to gather in refugees (my own community, the Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism is working to sponsor a family), we also must work to let go of our fear, our learned racism and xenophobia. We must learn to build bridges across difference. We fight terror and radicalization in many ways, but part of that fight is acknowledging that love and hope need to be stronger than hate and despair. 

Although this sentiment comes from Chasidism, in some ways very far from Humanism (in some ways quite close), I am reminded of the familiar sentiment: Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tsar me’od. The whole world is a narrow bridge, but the important thing is not to be afraid.