This week has been a tough week in many ways. The death toll grows and grows in the Philippines from the type of natural disaster that is only going to become more common thanks to our reckless treatment of the environment. The rollout of the health care law known alternatively as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, or Obama’s Albatross is going so badly that even the President is counted among its critics. And in the Holy Land, we are finally getting progress reports of Secretary Kerry’s efforts over the past few months to broker a peace treaty – and not surprisingly, those reports are every bit as dire as we would have feared. Any way you slice it, picking up the newspaper these days doesn’t exactly bring in rays of sunshine.
But you’ll forgive me this morning if I sing a different, and indeed, happy tune. Because we are now embarking on what is known by an increasing number of people as a “Weekend of Twinning.” Thanks to a New York-based organization called the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (http://www.ffeu.org/ ), this is the sixth annual weekend where Jews and Muslims from congregations all over the world get together in an effort to better appreciate their profound similarities and lovingly embrace their differences. My own organization, the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington (JIDS) (http://www.jids.org/new/) is about to celebrate its fourth annual Twinning Weekend event this Sunday at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, MD. A few years ago, that mosque received notoriety because the Ft. Hood shooter had frequently prayed there. Yet I know this mosque as an incredibly welcoming environment for Jews and other non-Muslims that is led by an imam who exudes holiness and who I am proud to call my friend. In fact, you can even find a copy of my Moses the Heretic in its library. Like the vast majority of American mosques, MCC is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
In the last five years, Twinning Weekend has become a bigger and bigger deal around the world. I have read that there are now “twins” getting together on six different continents and that the number of twins has reached the 300 mark. In my own hometown of Washington, D.C., interested parties can find twinning events at multiple locations this weekend. Even my own home synagogue is getting together with a mosque and a church – thereby serving as a “triplet.”
If you don’t mind how divisive religion has become, or how chauvinistically and condescendingly religious people can behave, then feel free to ignore the interfaith movement and “stick to your own kind” whenever you set foot in a place of worship. But if you would like to see religion become a source of social unity and heightened understanding among different cultures and creeds, then please join this movement … and no time is too soon. Whether you are a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, or a Secular Humanist, it’s time to reach out and embrace the Other. In fact, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s theme for this Twinning Weekend is “Standing up for the Other.” If ever there were a cause for the whole world to embrace, this is it.