‘Terry, I’m (gasp) an atheist!’ There was not a hint of anger in her during the entire time “Mary” and I talked that afternoon in the crowded sandwich shop. In fact, it was just the opposite. “Mary” laughed, we laughed, so hard and so much that out of the corner of my eye I could see icy stares from booths nearby “telling us” to pipe down so that they could get back to their business dealings, grandkiddos, tuna sandwiches, chips and lattes. Here’s the email “Mary” sent me the Friday before that prompted that late Monday meeting:
As a young girl, I lived in a middle-class Black community surrounded by people who made me feel that I was incredible and could do anything I set her mind to. It was a recipe for constant conflict with a racist, sexist society and its institutions throughout the rest of my life.
Deborah: Sadly, I’m watching yet another evacuation of a Jewish center on TV. I know what it’s like to oversee an evacuation during a bomb threat. I was in charge of security at a Jewish agency in Chicago, was trained by the FBI in security after the Oklahoma City bombing, and oversaw the design for a secure Jewish Community Center in Chattanooga.
Today’s political and social climate in the world and in the United States seems to accentuates disagreement in thoughts and ideologies, give rise to disunity, create a sense of fear and insecurity, and in some cases even loss of human life and destruction. Chaos and confusion are reaching such intensity that they are affecting the fundamental structure of society; uprooting its time-honored constitutions and institutions; destroying the bonds of human relationships; and driving its inhabitants away from their homes as refugees. To counter these forces, significant productive and constructive energy will be required to sustain human societies. One way to look at our community, country, and the world for a path forward is to practice the concept of Unity in Diversity. The American Diversity Report provides an effective avenue for meaningful discourse on the subject.
Anyone listening can hear the loud, raucous controversies surrounding religion and our religious differences. The conversation is rife with words such as terrorism, hate, threatening, ungodly, illegal, and inhumane. The effect of this volcanic environment is to make our adrenalin run so high and long that we are virtually unable to hear the human beings involved. As hyperbole and exaggeration are added, we are witnessing a vicious cycle of protests and counter-protests, threats and counter-threats. Can this cycle be broken, or at least interrupted long enough for us to stop yelling, listen effectively, and initiate some major problem solving?
It was an honor to share my perspective as a Jew and diversity professional at Chattanooga’s MLK interfaith service commemorating The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My passion for diversity is a legacy from my father, a US World War II military intelligence officer whose letters describing Nazi Germany reside in Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives. Having dedicated decades to tikkun olam, Hebrew for ‘repair of the world,’ I resonate deeply to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel words, “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
In a time when racial, political, economic and religious divisions in the United States are increasingly obvious, the people of one southern city, Chattanooga, Tennessee, are attempting, through dialogue, to understand the religious beliefs of one another. On a chilly November Monday evening a group of over fifty people gathered at a Hindu temple for the Sixth Interfaith Panel Discussion. The attendees and panelists were ordinary people, with extra-ordinary beliefs concerning the value of gaining knowledge and understanding of the faith traditions of one another.
It’s 1959. I’m a Southern religious teenage girl raised on the fire and brimstone of the Baptist Church. My boyfriend is a second generation Italian Catholic. My mother, recently divorced from my step-father, transforms from a “Betty Crocker’ housewife into a bird set free from a gilded cage. This turn of events leads to her elopement with one of her many men friends to Elkton, Maryland. Butch and I go along as witnesses. After spending the night in her Buick at the A&P parking lot, waiting for the courthouse to open, we finally walk out of the wide court doors—married—all four of us. Mom and Sal drive off to Florida, I move in with a girlfriend and Butch goes back to his home, as if nothing stupendous happened.
I was excited to return to Cincinnati to speak on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Always a dynamic city, Cincinnati has become an innovative powerhouse. It was an honor to share the lessons, analysis, and strategies gained during my three decades and two books devoted to the topic of religious diversity.