My heart is heavy about events in the world this last week. My heart breaks at the violence Hamas is inflicting upon Israeli civilians and the hostages and their families. My heart breaks at the deep pain of the Palestinian people and their situation. There are so many layers of history, missed opportunities, and trauma here. All of us at PTU long for peace and justice for all on our planet, and a time when Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace alongside one another.
Our mission at PTU is to bridge bias and build unity through multi-faith peacemaking. We do that work here in the United States. We typically don’t make statements about international affairs as that is not our expertise.
These events will add energy to those who seek to dehumanize Jews, Muslims, and people of wisdom traditions in general. Our Sikh neighbors and other traditions will also be less safe as people interpret their dress as Islamic, out of ignorance and fear. We work to counter dehumanization based on wisdom tradition and culture in the US.
We are continuing that work.
As these events unfolded, I spent my time reaching out to my Jewish siblings to share our prayers for them and for Jews everywhere. I spent time reaching out to my Muslim siblings to share our prayers for them and for Muslims everywhere. I spent time showing up in Jewish and Muslim communities, to maintain connection, express empathy, and honor their humanity. I spent time reaching out to other interfaith leaders to learn and listen.
I went to a Mosque for Friday prayers. Later that day, I attended Shabbat services with a Jewish community. I saw many emotions in each community. I saw a deep hunger for peace. I told each community that I was visiting the other that day. Upon hearing this, a Muslim man visibly relaxed, and said, “I am glad you are doing that. I have friends on all sides of this. They must be hurting.” Upon hearing this, a Jewish woman began to tear up, saying, “That is good. They must feel alone right now, too.”
Every person I talked to, both Muslims and Jews, had a similar reaction. Their humanity deeply humbled me.
I have spent the last decade working to counter the dehumanization of people on the basis of religion, no religion, and culture. Dehumanization leads to increased violence. I began that work to counter anti-Muslim hate groups. I always understood that dehumanization of any one group is a branch on a tree of hate, poisoning everyone with its terrible fruit. Since then, the work of PTU has expanded to counter bigotry toward Indigenous people, Jews, and many others.
Dehumanization hooks us by telling us that what we love is being threatened – not by individuals or organizations, but by a whole race, religion, or culture. It points to the worst actions of some and places the blame on all. It then justifies violence against the whole group in the name of what we love.
PTU was founded by Rabbi Raphael Levine and Father William Treacy. Both of them experienced, in their own way, the violence that dehumanization creates. Their pictures are on the wall of my office, and I have been looking to them for inspiration this week.
Rabbi Levine’s first memory was of a violent attack, a mob denouncing him, his family, his tradition, and his ancestors. Those marching in the streets in Lithuania were Christians, most of them Catholic. Raphael Levine was three and a half years old.
Father Treacy knew stories of Catholics in Northern Ireland forced to hold worship secretly in the woods for safety. The people of Northern Ireland experienced terrible conflict.
In 1960, having become a rabbi and emigrated to the United States, Levine saw anti-Catholic sentiments growing in reaction to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Given Levine’s traumatic past, he could easily have acted out of resentment, saying, “Now you know what it’s like.” Instead, he proposed a TV talk show in which a Rabbi, Priest, and Pastor spoke as equals, as humans.
Father Treacy could have refused to work with Protestant pastors. But he welcomed and respected them.
Rabbi Levine and Father Treacy worked to bring unity to the human family, because of teachings of their faith traditions and their families. They did so out of hope for a better future.
We, too, can work for unity in the human family today, in our own communities. Inspired by the example of Rabbi Levine and Father Treacy, we encourage you to:
- Have compassion for yourselves and others.
- Deepen your spiritual practices, exercise, and breathe.
- Spend more time learning and listening than speaking.
- Exercise wisdom about our polarizing media and social media environment.
- Resist the temptation to apply collective blame.
- Maintain connection and relationship when you can.
- Offer space when needed, but keep checking in.
- Speak well of groups of people when others dehumanize them.
Lastly, cultivate hope.
Rabbi Levine and Father Treacy understood the realities of history. They knew what humans can do to each other. They came together and they brought people together. This was not out of naivete or wishful thinking. These were people that had experienced the horrors of the 20th century. They came together knowing that our well-being is interconnected and they were determined to do what they could to make a better future possible.
It is up to us, not to fix everything in the world but to work with humility on that which is within our grasp. It is up to us to do so together with all who would – in the midst of our many, passionate differences – work with us in creating that future together.
I end with the word of Rabbi Levine, spoken during an interview on KOMO TV:
“We as a human race are inextricably interdependent. We need each other if we’re going to survive. Therefore, [brotherhood] is not merely a pious platitude, it’s the very condition of human survival on this planet.”