Rabbi Yael Splansky: Address to the Imdadul Islamic Centre Congregation
Read the transcript here
I am uplifted by your open-heartedness today. I am truly humbled by the invitation to address you. I do not take this privilege lightly.
Inside this sanctuary are many hearts, each with a private prayer. Outside this sanctuary is a Ring of fellow-Torontonians – some young, some old, some Jewish, some Christian, some non-believers – each one has a heart. And in each heart is a private prayer now woven together with yours. And across this good city, right now, there are 17 Rings of Peace gathered around 17 mosques! Can you picture it? Imagine you are a bird flying over the city. Look down and see the rooftops of your sister mosques, each a House of Faith, each a House of God. Now look more closely and you’ll see those little Rings of Peace. 17 circles of ordinary people doing something extraordinary. They have taken time from their work-day, their school-day, to follow their hearts and stand with you today. I hope you feel their strength reinforcing your strength, their prayers reinforcing your prayers, their sorrow joined together with your sorrow. It’s impossible to measure a prayer, but prayers can be powerful.
They say 90% of a religious life is just showing up. I know you know what I mean. 90% of a religious life is putting yourself in the right place at the right time to do the right thing.
The people you see outside your doorstep now and the people you can imagine in Rings of Peace across the city are showing up because they can’t sit still. They can’t read the news of the day and NOT weep. They can’t feel the rise of fear and hatred and do nothing!
And so today we are doing as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did when he and my grandfather marched for civil rights with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Rabbi Heschel said, “Today I am praying with my legs.” Yes, today hundreds of non-Muslims are walking in the direction of their Muslim cousins. We followed our feet and found our way to you. With our legs we stand tall in solidarity with you. Today we stand strong against hatred in all its forms. So we are here — again.
When the news from New Zealand broke, I reached Osman while he was on his family vacation and I asked: “Should we do this again, Osman??? We should never have to do this again! I only want our congregations to meet to learn from one another (as we do), to prepare meals for the hungry together (as we do), to host one another and break bread together (as we do). These are the good reasons we should come together — to celebrate our common ground and yes, to celebrate our differences, too.
But if the moment requires that we grieve together, we will grieve together and do what we can to console one another. First, after Quebec City. Next, after Pittsburgh. And today, God help us, after New Zealand.
“Osman,” I asked, “should we do this AGAIN???“ And he said, “Yes, please come and we will take comfort from you.”
You might wonder what is inside the hearts of the friends and strangers standing outside your door today?
First and foremost, compassion and love. Our Torah, our sacred scripture, instructs us to “Love our neighbour.” To Love your neighbour is to show up for your neighbour.
Some two thousand years ago the ancient Rabbis of the Mishnah asked: “Why did God start with just one human being called Adam?” And they answer: “To teach us that all peoples come from the same parent. We are one human family. No one can say: ‘My ancestry is greater than yours, because we are all descendents of Adam.’”
What else is in our hearts today? A deep sadness. The kind of grief that aches. To imagine the slaughter of innocent people at prayer is enough to break the heart into a thousand pieces. That famous teaching from the ancient Rabbis of the Mishnah goes on to say: “To destroy a single life is to destroy an entire world; and to save a life is to have saved a world entire.” I understand you know these words, because a version of these very words is found in your holy book, the Koran. Fifty lives cut short. Fifty worlds destroyed. How does one grieve for fifty worlds? How can we bear the burden of such a heavy grief? Just like this. Just like this. By being together. By holding on to one another. The 20th-century Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, taught that “All real living is meeting.”
And what else is in our hearts today? If we are honest we may find for some, there is also anger. I want to acknowledge it. It’s a human response. Some may feel angry that we do not feel safe in our own Houses of Prayer. Angry that we don’t know what to tell our children and grandchildren. Angry that guns are coming across the border and flooding our streets. Angry that there is a twisted underground that lives on the internet and tells ugly lies and spews hatred and glorifies violence. Angry that some of our elected officials offer “thoughts and prayers,” but do not do the hard work to make for real change, to make for real security.
Today’s Canada is as good as it gets. We are so fortunate to call Canada home. We are the envy of much of the world! And yet, even here, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and xenophobia of all kinds are on the rise. We can do better. So if there is any anger, let us channel it, direct it in meaningful ways to create the society we believe every Canadian deserves. Let us be willing to shout down hatred wherever we see it. Call it out whenever we sense in – even in the extremist fringes of our own peoples.
We thank our judges and journalists and elected officials for making a more just society. Some of them are with us here today – MPP Tom Rakocevic, MP Michael Levitt, and Minister Carolyn Bennett. We salute our police and first responders for their protection, for even putting themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. May God watch over them.
I must say that today I carry with me the memory of Joyce Feinberg, aleha Shalom, may Peace be upon her. Joyce was raised at my congregation, Holy Blossom Temple. She was educated there, married there. And then Joyce moved to Pittsburgh. She joined the Tree of Life synagogue. And she was among the eleven Jews who were murdered there. The memory of Joyce is also part of what motivates me to be with you today.
In conclusion, I want to thank Osman for teaching me an important religious lesson. When you gathered around us at Holy Blossom Temple after the Pittsburgh killings, when you were there for us in our hour of grief, Osman explained that you were not there to reciprocate. You were not there for us, because we were here for you after the Quebec City killings. This was not a simple reciprocation of kindness — you do for me, so I do for you. He explained: “This is our sacred duty. We would be here anyway. “
Thank God for our growing friendship. I treasure it. But we’d be here anyway. Thank God for our growing partnership. I delight in seeing our children together. But we’d be here anyway, because we see in your faces the reflection of the face of God, who created us all b’Tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.
Oseh Shalom bimromav. Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yoshvei tevel. May the One who causes peace in the high heavens, cause peace to descend upon us here on earth as well.