Tuesday, September 4, 2012

#BlogElul day 17: Inspiration

For those who missed it, here's the text of my article for this month's Jewish Voice, in which I talk about the rally and service held the Sikh center in the wake of the shooting last month in Wisconsin. It was an inspiration to behold; what inspires you?  
Late, late late.
That’s all I could think about as I parked my car and speed walked to the Sikh Center of Delaware on Wednesday, August 8th.

I had been invited by Mona Singh of that community to come and participate in a candlelight vigil honoring those who had died in the terrible shooting at Oak Creek Wisconsin only a few days earlier. With their permission, I circulated it among colleagues (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) and within the community. Now, after getting horribly turned around, I was showing up 20 minutes into the program, and I felt terrible.

But as I walked down the road passed parked cars, I saw the number of Siegel JCC magnets on the bumpers, and I began to feel  better. And as I walked into the parking lot (the event was held outdoors to accommodate all the folks who came out) my anxiety melted.

I saw friends from the Jewish community, including Connie Kreshtool, Hayim Weiss, Susan and Mark Detwiler and others. I saw my friend Russ Bohner from Christ Church Christiana Hundred and Tia Hammer, the community organizer from Hanover Presbyterian. I recognized nuns, leaders from various other faith groups, staff from the Governor’s office, New Castle County, and Senator Chris Coons. I saw a sea of vivid orange of the head-coverings given out by the Center for those without a head covering; many Sikhs and non-Sikhs were wearing them respectfully, and that gave the moment a sense of brilliance, despite the noise from S. Dupont Highway.

The Senator stood up and spoke of shared values and of the celebration of those values. He pointed out that vigils were being observed at the White House and elsewhere. And then he said something incredibly profound: he spoke of feeling G-d present in that moment.

And G-d truly was. G-d was present in the smiles of children playing and in the words of prayer sung in Punjabi, the rituals observed without any sense of embarrassment or apology. G-d was present in the words of prayer spoken by civic officials and clergy. G-d was present as Father Russ and I took to the podium together, out of real friendship and affection for each other, and out of a sense that our prayers could, should, be interwoven at such a moment. And G-d was present as we gathered afterwards for a shared vegetarian communal meal (very important to Jews and Sikhs alike), breaking bread together: Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Sikhs and Jews.

Shailen Bhatt, Delaware’s Secretary of transportation and himself Indian and Hindu, spoke of their shared value of Seva, of selfless service. We know the term as Avodah, which carries the double meaning of service; both ‘worship’ and ‘work’. That vigil was service in the best sense: it was worship—prayers of hope and remembrance offered for the dead, the wounded and those stricken with hate. But it was also the beginning of work; the work we need to do to make sure G-d remains present in our encounters with one another. And that work never stops.

By the time I got back to my car, I wasn’t so worried about being late. I was sweaty from being outside, the taste of indian food still on my tounge; and I was filled with a new sense of hope. I have reached out to Mona Singh and invited his community into the interfaith work we do at Beth Emeth already; a new chance for seva. And as we move from High Holidays into a new year, may this connection, born of tragedy, inspire us to selfless service. 

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