8 Stories of Jewish and Muslim Compassion

Muslim Harim Hamad guards the only  Jewish synagogue in Arazon
Muslim Harim Hamad guards the only Jewish synagogue in Arazon, Morocco

As an interfaith minister, I study the very best teachings of the world’s religions and honor the spiritual wisdom of their beliefs and traditions.
I believe all paths lead to one God, the Divine, the Sacred. Each path reflects the rich diversity of our collective human experience. Religion is one strand of the fabric of who we are as a species.

Differences abound. Different gene pools, cultures, histories, geographical and climactic adaptations… we seem to have mastered our differences quite well.
But so many of our difference represent nothing more than different groups of people in collective search of a bit of purpose and meaning in their often chaotic, unpredictable and uncontrollable lives. Indeed, we cherish our joys but also mourn our sorrows.

We don’t have to look very far to realize that people are people with varying degrees of successes and failures when it comes to coexistence. Some individuals coexist better than others. Some couples coexist better than others. Some families/tribes coexist better than others. Some groups/nations coexist better than others. Some religions coexist better than others. Often, coexistence is not easy but it can be accomplished and it can flourish.

The ongoing intolerance, fear and vengeful behavior between Jews and Muslims is tragic and painful. It’s ungodly and despite its pretenses has nothing to do with spirituality… little to do with religion… and everything to do with both subtle and overt politics throughout millennia. It is, as I understand it, a stain upon our human evolution on this planet. (Christianity’s contribution to the terror will be the topic of another blog post).

I am committed to coexistence personally and professionally. I love my Jewish friends. I love my Muslim friends. I love having them to vegan brunch or lunch or dinner together… as I orchestrate opportunities to shake hands, see their bodies and souls and listen to each other as they share healthy, cruelty-free food and drink… over my glass-top table… my profane alter where “God and man at table are sat down.”

Regardless of that which is declared politically correct these days, I have come to believe that both Judaism and Islam are valid pathways to the Sacred. I believe that Israel is right. I believe that Palestine is right. I believe that Israel is wrong. I believe that Palestine is also wrong.

If war is to be the ultimate result of the Abrahamic religions’ coexistence… if the tribes of Abraham – Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot coexist – a friend says – then God has failed us.

I choose not to live that way. If Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot coexist, I believe that we have failed God.

Bluntly, I look for hope where ever I can find it. I choose to find hope here. Read with me:

As 2014 draws to a close we wanted to honor some of the inspirational individuals that rose above the political tensions that divide Jews and Muslims and extended a hand of friendship. (Courtesy of the Interfaith Council of Southern NV, of which I am a member).

8 Stories of Jewish and Muslim Compassion

Hope = Compassion + Forgiveness

Photo courtesy of NPR
Photo courtesy of NPR

As a minister, I’m on the lookout for moments of contemplation into action within my personal and professional encounters throughout the day. Finding the Sacred (or Divine or God or The Holy or Buddha or the goddesses or Jesus or Allah) is not always easy. I teach myself to look more carefully; listen more intently; and touch more intentionally. I have much to learn.

Amidst the despair, fear and revenge of the tribal war between Israel and Palestine, this NPR story by Ari Shapiro, a Jewish journalist, offers glimpses and whispers of hope, compassion and forgiveness… the mission of my interfaith ministry.

The forgiveness moment is soft and subtle… but it’s there… a gentle reminder that just as there are many paths to God, there are also many paths to reconciliation. Can you help me find forgiveness?


Hope = Compassion + Forgiveness

Interfaith Kindergarten in Jerusalem

YMCA Interfaith Kindergarten in Jerusalem
YMCA Interfaith Kindergarten in Jerusalem

An interfaith – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – kindergarten program in Jerusalem is practicing coexistence and teaching tolerance literally one student at a time. I honor this interfaith in action effort… as a bonus… the program has both male and female teachers. Bravo!


Interfaith Kindergarten in Jerusalem



Ubuntu is an ancient African tribal word meaning human-ness; human kindness; humanity toward others; “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Ubuntu is our “interconnectedness.” Its the glue that holds us all together.

Ubuntu has evolved as a kind of philosophy…a way of life embracing “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

Ubuntu was introduced to the West by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, President Bill Clinton. Ubuntu has implications for interfaith approaches to spirituality, ecospirituality tolerance, peace and environmental stewardship.

“My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours… We belong in a bundle of life.” (Desmond Tutu)

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he/she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” (Desmond Tutu)

“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” (Desmond Tutu)

“So Ubuntu — for us it means that the world is too small, our wisdom too limited, our time here too short, to waste any more of it in winning fleeting victories at other people’s expense. We have to now find a way to triumph together.” (Bill Clinton)



healing doesnt mean the damage never existed it means the damage no longer controls our lives

During the cultural crisis in the USA in the 1960s, when fear and anger and violence, polarized Vietnam war hawks and doves, Blacks and Whites, young and old, poor and rich, I was a young boy growing up in the middle of an urban ghetto in Providence, Rhode Island. Dis-ease surrounded my conservative, middle class, Roman Catholic family in our living room, on our street, in our neighborhood, in my school and in our parish church. The danger became so overwhelmingly constant, my family moved in 1970.

When I was in the 3rd grade, “some Russian guy” killed President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. In the 8th grade, a white man shot Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bobby Kennedy died 63 days later from his extremist assassin’s bullet. (content for other blog posts another day).

I repeatedly witnessed riots’ smashing and looting and burning. I heard protests with yelling and screaming and chanting. Literally, entire streets were destroyed homes, driveways, sidewalks, and the street itself, leaving craters right down to the sewer pipes. Destruction and decaying rubble was everywhere.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, while in high school, I demonstrated while volunteering in both the antiwar and civil rights movements. In fact, I was suspended from high school for civil disobedience. In the 1980’s, I joined protests when a transvestite was shot by police who would be investigated by the FBI. I helped create the second hospice for persons with AIDS in the USA. I’ve managed therapy programs for abused/neglected/abandoned children for decades. I know social reformation. I have felt compelled to act when the ‘status quo’ became intolerable.

My personal journey has lead me to believe that although violence can indeed facilitate change, violence never heals. “Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.” – Tori Amos

Violence for violence sake is evil. Revenge is toxic and nobody wins. I am frequently mindful of Mahatma Gandhi’s caution: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Be determined to see things differently. Choose healing – healing that invites reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness. Try forgiveness.

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.” – Rev. Henri Nouwen


Thy Neighbor

Thy Neighbor

…”You shall love thy neighbor as yourself…” – Jesus

Christians believe the man named Jesus was the Son of God. The Bible’s New Testament is a collection of stories and sayings attributed to his life and teachings. Since I was a very little boy, I’ve heard this Christian commandment over and over again (I was raised Roman Catholic). I still find the quote problematic and continue to play mental gymnastics to try to rationalize my way out of its meaning.

This one is tough because its all encompassing and it hits home: MYSELF? Really?

I can try to convince myself that whoever wrote it got Jesus’ words wrong or that he actually meant all my neighbors except “that one” or “those people.” Does the Bible have typos?
And he surely didn’t mean people like them or those other folks who do stuff like that. Nope.

In fact, the essential message of Christianity teaches unconditional acceptance and love. Nothing more… nothing less. “Love God. Love thy neighbor.” Everything else is a footnote.

The message is clear: compassion, mercy, tolerance, forgiveness.

I’m still working on this one.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Mark 22:36-40.

Thy Neighbor