Wednesday, November 21, 2012


PEACE NOW: Shabbat Service at Temple Mt Sinai in El Paso, TX. 11/16/12
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. “Shabbat is the most important Jewish holiday,” said Hal Marcus, “and it happens 52 times a year [every Friday night]. It teaches you to chill out and reflect.” 

As the Shabbat Service began, I could tell the temple had shifted since I remembered it as a child. It was no longer the bland service I remember.  Rabbis Larry Bach and Sandra Bellush have filled the service with guitar, singing and passion. The prayers and stories they highlighted accentuated peace and oneness.

In tradition, as every Rabbi does in every Shabbat Service, he invited all the children up to the bimah (the elevated platform facing the congregation in a Jewish synagogue) toward the end of the service, for the Kiddish (a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat.) At that moment peace was restored in my heart. Two Jewish children ran up to the bimah along with two Muslim children.  And they all drank the grape juice together.

Just think about that for a moment: On the same exact day that the holy city Jerusalem was targeted for the first time ever by rockets fired by Gaza militants, on the other side of the world Muslims and Jews teach their children about oneness.

Since I can remember my father, Hal Marcus, has incorporated interfaith philosophies into his and his children’s lives. My mother, being raised Christian, always decorated an artistic Christmas tree which was usually a branch or a household plant decorated with silver tinsel. My father was raised Jewish and he celebrated the eight nights of Chanukah, as well as all the Jewish holidays, but it went further than that. My parents set up a Buddhist prayer area in our attic and frequently our house would ring with chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (The Nichiren Buddhism Lotus Sutra. This mantra that is chanted to attain perfect and complete awakening). On occasion, the whole family would join Native American Ceremonies. My father even woke us three children up one morning to go to Church. “But we are Jewish,” I said.  He agreed but still insisted we attend the church for the experience.   All three of his children were raised Jewish and had our Bar/Bat Mitzvah and our Confirmation (Jewish coming of age rituals), I was married by a Humanistic Rabbi, and we all hold our Judaism close to our hearts, as does my father.   

What this interfaith experience has given me is a world-view of love and community. It has created a world that is full of religious and spiritual beings working for ultimately the same thing: Oneness.  As my father says: “Religions are like fingers on my hands that lead to my heart. Religions are like rivers that lead to one big ocean and that ocean is God. “

It was no surprise to me that he organized “Peace Now” the Interfaith Shabbat Service & Meal at the Temple Mt. Sinai  on November 16, 2012.  For first time in the congregation’s history ten religions came together to share Shabbat. Muslims, Christians, Mormons, Buddhists, Unitarians, Baha'i, Native American Indians, Hindus, Agnostics, Jews and the non-affiliated came together under one roof to share sacred religious space.

In the past years it has been humbling and inspiring to watch my father build his spirituality and community in Temple Mt. Sinai. He has been on the board of directors for 4 years and recently became one of the vice presidents.  He has had the privilege of being a strong voice for social justice and interfaith dialogue. This year the congregation has been a major monetary donor for helping to feed the hungry on a continuing basis. The congregation is one of 20 who are part of Border Interfaith, a broad-based community organization that develops leadership through education and interfaith relationships for effective democratic practices and meaningful community service.  They support Las Americas, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the legal needs of low income immigrants, including refugees and battered women.

 “We Reform Jews like to challenge the status quo,” said my father. He explains that this is part of his job as a Jew. Tikkun olam (תיקון עולם‎) is a Hebrew phrase from the Torah that means repairing, healing and restoring the world.  Jews believe that humanity should follow Tikkun olam not only because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid  social disharmony.  “It’s what we are suppose to be doing,” said my father. “Love your enemy, clothe the naked, take care of your neighbor, and feed the hungry…. The more you do this, the better community you have.” My father’s eyes then grew with passion. “In El Paso we share the food, we break the bread and all that stuff.”

This Shabbat Service was a dream come true for my father and my step mother Patricia Medici . They planned on 30 people attending. As my father gave his speech from the bimah and looked out in the full room of over 130 people, you could see the tears well up in his eyes.

He read from his speech:
“Mahatma Gandhi taught that we must be the change
that we want to see in the   world.

If we change, if we share and cooperate, there is no reason
for hunger, poverty or violence.  We know there are enough
resources/enough food/ enough energy/land and water for
everyone.  We need to evolve together once and for all to fulfill
the prophecy of peace. 

I believe that first and foremost that we are all human beings
and we are all brothers and sisters.

I like what Mother Theresa said, that there are
three important things in life:
#1 be kind;     #2 be kind;     #3 be kind

I believe that God doesn't really care what religion you are. 
I think God cares about how we treat each other, how we respect
the planet, and how we live our lives.

I thank you for making this dream come true. I challenge you to
continue this dream and invite other tribes into your temples,
churches and sacred spaces to break bread and discuss our
similarities and differences.”

After the Service was over everyone headed to another room to break bread together and have dinner. Rabbi Bach explained that with all the different religious food restrictions the easiest way to feed everyone was through a vegan dinner. The caterer, One Inspired Chef , served quiche, Spanish rice, spinach salad, tomato soup and even chocolate brownies.

Participants from all ten religions commented on the “beautiful dialogue” and how this gathering is already inspiring them to open their sacred spaces for interfaith gatherings.

My father Hal leaned close into me. “You have to imagine peace. It only takes 3% of the world population to change a mind set. He’s reminded of a saying. “One day man will not learn war anymore…. Well, why don’t we make that day now?! It’s really easy. It’s fun and it’s enlightening and it’s kind of our job.”

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