Monday, October 19, 2015

Combatting Hate at the Festival of Faiths

On Saturday, September 19, I was part of a panel on the topic of "Combatting Hate" at the first annual Festival of Faiths. Organized by youth affiliated with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, the Festival of Faiths is intended to teach others about different faiths by people who practice them through information tables, panel discussions, and performances.

The Combatting Hate panel consisted of myself speaking as a Jewish person, as well as representatives from the local Muslim and United Church of Canada communities. It was moderated by a Unitarian Universalist minister.We discussed hate crimes in Edmonton and what everyone can do to help prevent such things from happening: ways to build interfaith understanding in our diverse society.

I was not sure what format the panel would take prior to the event, so I prepared some notes in the event that I had to give some sort of introductory talk. As it turned out, the panel was a discussion led by questions from the moderator, then the audience. I did, however, refer to my notes at several times when responding to questions. Here are my notes - I was clear in making it known I was speaking as a lay person. The event was hard-pressed to find a rabbi because the event was held on the Jewish Sabbath (steps are being taken to prevent this from happening next year).

1. There are no specific Jewish teachings on hatred and racism I am aware of.
2. We can look at the Old Testament, starting with the story of Adam and Eve, which shows that we are all connected, we all come from the same beginnings, and as thus are all equal.
3. There are passages in Isaiah and Proverbs that deal with how we treat people, but again, these are not specifically Jewish (other religions follow the Old Testament also).
4. However, one of my favourite, and best known, comments on how we treat each other is actually from the Talmud (oral law which was later codified in writing). The story of Rabbi Hillel - a rabbi who lived around the same time as Jesus. The story goes that a non-Jew came to Rabbi Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if the rabbi could teach the man the entire Torah in the same time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel's response: "What is hateful, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary." (Talmud Shabbat 31a)
5. So, as a Jewish person, I find a solution, or preventative measure, against hatred is for us to dialogue and learn from each other about what our faiths and cultures really mean, to recognize the true teachings from ones that only serve the purposes of political leaders or others who seek power or operate on greed and envy, who use faith to try to reach those aims.
6. As a Jewish person, I feel we each need to lead by example, and to learn from our history. We are as prone as anyone to being perpetrators of hatred and prejudice. My mother told me stories of teachers at her Yeshiva (Jewish day school) expressing anti-Arab sentiments. There are Jewish jokes about the stupidity of non-Jews, for example.
7. There is a misinterpretation as to the meaning of Jewish people being the "Chosen People." It has been used against us, and by us to be against others. It doesn't mean we are special or better - it means we were chosen to receive the Torah. So, we need to also have a good understanding of our own faith and culture.

Here is a video from the discussion - the battery in my camera died before the Q&A started:

Here is a sound file of the entire panel discussion, including the Q&A: