A New Moment to Come Together Against Islamophobia

July 7, 2016Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

This week, the Jewish community celebrates Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, a holy day that continues through today.* While we in the Jewish community are celebrating a new month, the Muslim community is observing Eid al-Fitr, one of two Muslim festival holidays commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of the month of Shawwal. 

This confluence of celebrations is bound to happen because both Judaism and Islam follow a lunar calendar. But even the fundamental fact that both faith traditions follow a lunar calendar is an important reminder that we have more in common than what makes us different. The coinciding holidays remind us to celebrate the similarities of our faith traditions, exploring the values, teachings, or practices that unite us.

Too often, religious differences lead to fear and distrust.  Especially now, with Islamophobia on the rise, we must reject hateful rhetoric and bigotry.  No person ought to be targeted because of his or her faith or beliefs. Our differences ought not divide us, but serve as a source of strength. 

In fact, it is the celebration of our differences that is the hallmark of our country. The Constitution ensures no religious tests for office, and the First Amendment ensures free exercise of religion – for all people. In fact, in a letter to the Jewish community of Rhode Island, George Washington wrote, “the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” These foundational principles and these words are important reminders of the country we, and every generation, are charged with fostering. We also know the power the interfaith community has when we come together around common goals and when we stand together – in times of trouble and in times of joy. 

The beginning of a new moon cycle reminds us of the constant opportunity for renewal and recommitment to interfaith dialogue and understanding. And when the clouds may gather or the darkness of intolerance feels too strong, we know that the moon is still there, as is our faith and our faith in each other. 

That Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and Eid al-Fitr fall this year on overlapping days serves as an important reminder of the necessity to speak out against religious bigotry. Rhetoric that targets one of us targets all of us, and we will not stand for it. As I recently wrote in the Boston Globe about the passing of the great Elie Wiesel, "If Wiesel taught us that indifference is the opposite of love, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the next entry in our social justice lexicon, that ‘love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ Together, they urge us to not stand by, and remind us that acknowledgement of injustice alone is not enough."

As we celebrate together, let us seek opportunities, beyond coincidence, that bring our communities together. In challenging times, we cannot be divided, but should unite to learn from each other and model the society – of understanding and of peace – that we wish to see. Rosh Chodesh, a new month, is a fitting moment to renew our commitment to this work. 

* In Hebrew months with 30 days (as is the just-ended month of Sivan), Rosh Chodesh is observed for two days, the last day of the previous month and the first day of the new month. In Hebrew months with 29 days, Rosh Chodesh is observed for one day, the first day of the new month.

For more information, check out the Union for Reform Judaism and the Islamic Society of North America’s guide to Jewish-Muslim dialogue, “Children of Abraham” and watch Rabbi Pesner discuss Islamophobia on CBS News.

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