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The Power of Community, in Boston and Beyond

The Power of Community, in Boston and Beyond

On Patriots Day 2008, my wife Dana and I took the run of a lifetime. The Boston Marathon isn’t just a race that runners participate in to beat their personal best race time: In fact, many of the participants run to raise money for charities. Five years ago, we were two such people, running Boston to raise money for an autism organization that is very close to our hearts. Like so many other marathoners, it was the idea of helping others that pushed us get out of bed before the crack of dawn on frigid Boston mornings to train for the race. As we crossed that finish line, we felt like a part of something bigger than just a 26.2-mile race. We felt like people who had done something amazing for something amazing, to better not just ourselves but our community.

That word, “community” – as a rabbi, I can think of nothing more important. Indeed, the Boston Marathon is all about community, an integral part of the civic fabric of the City on a Hill. As you’ve no doubt learned by now, the marathon is held annually on Patriots Day, a local holiday and cause for celebration, attended by locals and out-of-towners alike. The race weaves through historic Boston, past the hallowed institutions upon which our American democracy was founded. As I ran through the streets of Boston five years ago, I felt the strength and beaty of my community and my country.

Yesterday morning, I attended the Interfaith Prayer Service in Boston, not only as a member of the faith community, but as a runner and a Bostonian. At the service today, I joined with other faith leaders and elected officials from all backgrounds, beliefs, and political views who came together to mourn and to pledge to work together to move forward. Once a city of deep racial and religious tension, Boston has grown into a city that shines as a beacon of cooperation – and the marathon bombing has only magnified that.

Jewish tradition has always acknowledged the healing power of faith. Yesterday, we took some baby steps toward repair, felt most keenly for me when the Roman Catholic Cardinal referenced tikkun olam (social justice) and the Muslim leader quoted the rabbinic maxim, "One who destroys a single life has destroyed an entire world; yet one who saves a single life has saved an entire world."

This year at the Boston Marathon, someone tried to destroy our community. On Patriots Day, when we commemorate American values, someone sought to destroy our way of life – but we will not let them win. The strength of community knows no bounds; there is no finish line.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He and his family live in Boston.

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