On Tuesday afternoon, October 21, Congregation Etz Chaim, one of the two Jewish synagogues in DuPage County, Illinois was vandalized. The perpetrator broke numerous windows and wrote anti-Semitic messages on the doors of the synagogue. He was apprehended within minutes and there was, thank God, no injury or loss of life to any persons. Still, the members of the synagogue were clearly rattled.
On Saturday evening, November 8, Congregation Etz Chaim invited the larger faith community to an event of support, “Coming Together in Solidarity.” Over 500 people attended with representatives from over 50 faith based institutions: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish. It was a remarkable event. As part of our congregation’s work with DuPage United, a network of congregations and unions engaged in broad-based community organizing in DuPage County, we have developed a long-standing relationship with Congregation Etz Chaim. I also have developed a significant collegial relationship with Senior Rabbi Steven Bob and Associate Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky. I was honored to have been invited to be one of the six speakers for the event.What follows is an approximation of my remarks.
I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska with a remarkable diversity of religious traditions. We had several varieties of Protestant churches. And we even had a Catholic church.
I went to seminary in St. Louis at a very conservative Lutheran seminary blocks away from what I believe is the oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi. I never made any attempt to visit that synagogue. Shame on me.
While at seminary, I worked a couple of summers for a business that rented party equipment. I loaded and unloaded chairs and tables days on end. Both the owner and the manager of the business were ethnic Jews. The manager, Steve, affectionately referred to me as “Father” though I was only 23 years old and childless. I prided myself on getting into debates with him on the meaning of some of the prophecies in Isaiah. It was not a fair fight with someone who never attended synagogue and I’m not sure knew how to spell “Isaiah.” In my youthful arrogance, I was sure that I was doing the Lord’s work in “witnessing” to my vocational supervisor.
From that very, very parochial context, I stand before you this evening to say that one of greatest and most profoundly meaningful partnerships of my life and my ministry has been the partnership that I and the congregation I serve have developed with Congregation Etz Chaim.
Through over 10 years of working together under the umbrella of our broad-based community organizing in DuPage United, we have forged significant and productive relationships. I have a relationship with Rabbi Bob and Rabbi Cosnowsky. I have a relationship with a number of lay members of your congregation. Lay members of my congregation have forged relationships with lay members of your congregation. As a result, Faith Lutheran Church has a significant and productive relationship with Congregation Etz Chaim.
You might say that we have become friends. Yet, I have never gone out for a beer with either of your rabbis. I have never been in either of their homes for dinner, nor have I ever invited them to my home for dinner.
I don’t need more friends.
What I need and what the world needs is deep, meaningful public relationships. We need the kind of relationships where we work together for our common vision of what God intends for this world. We need the kind of relationships where we will set aside our sectarian, dogmatic differences for the sake of what we hold in common and what we want for the world and for the communities we live in and more importantly, what we together believe is God’s vision for the world.
That is what I have with Congregation Etz Chaim. That is what I have enjoyed and what our congregation has enjoyed. We have done God’s work together. For that I am deeply grateful.
In this time of your struggle and your insecurity, I want you to know that we stand with you and we pledge to continue to work with you. Standing with you will mostly mean standing next to you and working together. Sometimes, it may mean standing behind you to support you. There may even be times when we will stand in front of you to protect you and to deflect the weapons of the hateful. But mostly, we will stand beside you hand in hand, working with you.
And let me say that I do not make this pledge out of a sense of charity. Because I know that when the time comes when we need you, you will do exactly the same for us.