Even for our violent time of history, this month has brought a remarkable succession of incidents of inter-religious violence in our country. For the moment, I want to name just three: the thwarted attack on two New York synagogues by four nominal Muslims (May 21st), the much-reported aggressive rhetoric of Rabbi Manis Friedman in Moment magazine (June 3rd), and last week's attack on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. by a white supremacist (June 11th).
In each case the news media reported on the violent episode. My son the journalism student reminds me that professional journalists generally do their work with honed sophistication and good intentions. Yet they are part of a system in which violence is defined as compelling news, while the peaceful exchanges following the act of violence generally go uncovered. (As one Muslim colleague puts it, no one would write a story with the title, "Muslim Performs Act of Kindness.")
Here is the untold story of these last three incidents. After the thwarted attack on the synagogues in New York, after the revelation of Rabbi Friedman's unfortunate comments about treatment of Palestinians, and after the murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, multiple Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations issued public expressions of concern and condemnation for acts of hate committed in the name of their own community. These statements rarely get quite the level of press attention given to the outrageous act that occasioned them, but with the Internet, the statements are available for those who care to know.
Beneath the level of public organizational press releases lies a less known but perhaps deeper web of interpersonal relationships among religious leaders of different communities. I know this because my work has opened me to relationships of caring and respect with many Christian and Muslim leaders. When a physical or symbolic attack on the Jewish community is committed, I receive moving e-mails from colleagues and friends, saying the news made them think of me, expressing their empathy and sorrow for me and other Jews, and offering prayers for a redeemed world. Likewise, when it was one of my own whose printed words appeared to offend norms of respect for the other, I went into high gear, to assure my friends of my own horror at what had been said in the name of the religion I treasure.
This is probably not a new phenomenon: I suspect this has been going on for a long time, and I am just becoming more deeply aware of it because my own inter-religious relationships are maturing. But something important is going on here. When inter-group enmity is expressed in the public square, there is a steady, reliable, and deeply felt exchange of caring and concern between friends and colleagues across religious boundaries. When my people is attacked, my friends reach out to find out if my loved ones and I are OK, expressing concern for the trauma my community has suffered. And when another people is attacked, I reach out in a similar way, because we care about one another, and we are pained when the fabric of humanity is torn yet again by an act of enmity.
This is a story of the simple yet profound reality of inter-religious relationship as the answer to hate in the world. Skeptics may deny the meaningfulness of this phenomenon. But those of us who are privileged to be part of this precious web of peace-building relationships know that this is the real story, and that it is played out countless times around the globe every day. Someday, when the advocates of dialogue grow in their numbers and in their passion for this sacred work, we will overpower the forces of hate. And we will do it one human relationship at a time.