“Here in the West, when one of us [religious groups] is threatened, we are all threatened any time there is intolerance,” he said. “It’s very easy for intolerance to be directed at one group and bleed into others.”
Rabbi Schnitzer, who leads the Bethesda Jewish Congregation in Maryland, shared with me his views on the importance of interfaith solidarity at a joint interfaith service of thanksgiving November 14. He and his congregation joined members of the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and the Idara-e-Jaferia Mosque for a Sunday event themed “Standing Up for Each Other.”
“Jews learned in the last century very clearly that being silent when anyone is persecuted ultimately ends up affecting us,” he said. “We learned during the Holocaust we cannot stand idly by, because it allows horrors to take place. Start early fighting that trend.”
Schnitzer noted that it was that commitment to religious tolerance that motivated rabbis in Florida to reach out to the Muslim community when Terry Jones, the pastor of a small fundamentalist Christian church in Gainesville, this summer announced plans to publicly burn thousands of copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. The leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, one of the oldest and largest organizations of Jewish clergy, condemned Jones’ threat. Jones ultimately canceled his Koran burning event.
According to Schnitzer, one of the necessary steps to tolerance of other religious faiths is “to acknowledge the validity of all expressions of God in the world — that they all have the same root, which is a desire on the part of humanity to attach to something much larger than oneself. Whatever path you take there, nevertheless, we are going to the same place. And we are looking for the same ‘spiritual juice.’
“Methodologies may be different; the rhetoric may be different; the texts may be different. But, again, the more you learn about the other texts and traditions, the more you see how similar they are, and you realize that primarily the differences show up as political statements and moments in history as opposed to real theological difference. There are some differences – I’m not going to gloss over them – but at the core, they are still working for the same thing,” Schnitzer said.