Thursday, February 19, 2009


On the first day of this month, nearly 25 Jews and 25 Muslims got together in a home in Silver Spring, Maryland. We came from different synagogues and mosques in the Washington, D.C. area, and as far as I know, few if any of us were trained in “interfaith” dialogue. But we embarked on one nonetheless. In fact, a few hours later, when all the talking had stopped, we vowed not only to continue, but expand the dialogue in future months. We resolved to meet at least once a month going forward – largely in small groups – to discuss the issues of fundamental significance to both communities.

What was so different about our approach? In a word, we’ve pledged from the very start to keep it REAL. Typically, “interfaith” means “pablum” – at least for the first several sessions. People are trained in these matters to begin the dialogue with comments about how the participating faiths are in essence saying the same things … and that once we get past the superficial differences, we’ll all realize how similar in spirit we truly are. In our first meeting, we shot that B.S. full of holes. The Muslims in the house were largely shocked at how many of the Jews appeared to be atheists -- weren’t we all supposed to believe in God? And as for my fellow Jews, many were taken aback by the “fundamentalism” of the Muslims, who repeatedly referenced their view that the Qur’an represents the actual words of Allah.

One after another, Jew and Muslim alike silently channeled Dorothy: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Somehow, though, the sense in the room was that we were onto something good. Something special. Never before had I better appreciated Nietzsche’s famous dictum that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” That sentiment was surely voiced in the first person plural by most of my fellow attendees.

When the session was over, I needed aspirin. And yet I also felt a strong sense of hope. The beauty of that gathering was that, in a sense, everyone in the house wanted the same things: peace, love and understanding. Elvis Costello once asked what’s so funny about those three concepts. Well now I know. In order to attain peace, love and understanding, we all have to come to grips with just how profoundly different some groups of people are from others – and the differences are so mind-blowing that it can get comical. There we were, supposedly representing Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths, and yet the Jews and Muslims were practically tearing their hair out about our contrasting approaches to God. When, in a couple of months, we begin talking about our respective cultures, the disparities between us might be even more pronounced. And I needn’t bother to point out the divergent approaches we’re likely to have when the subject turns to Middle Eastern politics, as you know it must.

So what’s the upshot? Should we quit right now? Not on your life. I sense a powerful will to work together and find whatever common ground there is to find. And as the cliché goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

So ... from the bottom of my heart, let me ask you this question. If you are a Jew or a Muslim and live in the Washington, D.C. area … or if you know someone who does … please e-mail me at I will supply all the details of our next meeting (which will be Sunday, March 8th at 1:30 p.m. in Potomac, Maryland) and subsequent meetings as well.

Don’t be shy – drop me a line. And when you show up, bring your voice box. As long as you come in the spirit of love, and with a sincere desire to better understand your “cousins” and work together for peace, you are more than welcome to join us.

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