Effective communication in any relationship is essential, especially in our fractured American society today. It is vital to promote understanding among people of different religions and races. This involves focused listening and openness to respectfully respond to a multiplicity of views on any subject, even those with which we disagree.
Recently, I participated in a four-day Zoom conference “Truth, Difference & Loyalty: An Interfaith Symposium,” with sessions taught by scholars from both the United States and Israel. Dr. Claire Sufrin (Northwestern University, Chicago) led one session. She based her talk on three texts, which have much to teach us.
A large portion of her lecture was an elaboration of Martin Buber’s work, “I And Thou,” which may be familiar to some of you. We relate to the world in two basic ways: I-It relationships, which are instrumental (interacting with an object such as a piece of art) and I-You relationships, which are transformative (meeting and interacting with another person or persons). These are qualitatively different. Buber asserts that when we touch another You, we are touched by a “breath of eternal life.” “Eternal You,” according to Sufrin, is Buber’s term for God. In essence, we must approach others as a “You” and not an “It.”
Sufrin then shared five “virtues” based on a book by Dr. Catherine Camille (Boston College): 1. Humility; 2. Commitment; 3. Interconnection; 4. Empathy; and 5. Hospitality.
Humility acknowledges the finiteness of one’s understanding of a concept or outlook and the desire for growth in dialogue. Commitment points to sincerity to pursue inter-religious dialogue beyond strictly interpersonal dialogue – to accept differences instead of limiting talk to similarities. Interconnection, however, stresses the similarities in order to bring individuals/groups closer together. This includes external challenges that Camille asserts affect all religions alike. Empathy for each other will lead to enhancement of the experience (of dialogue), not just the content of the discussion. It can expand religious growth as well as unlock new possibilities to expand one’s religious horizons. Finally, hospitality refers to the ability to discover new elements of truth in religions other than one’s own.
This, of course, is merely a summary of the various components of Sufrin’s presentation. She framed her session by briefly talking about “hope,” which undergirds this whole endeavor, and she read Elie Wiesel’s “A Meditation on Hope.”
Hope is a transcendental act which accompanies us all in our endeavors and allows us to go beyond our limits so as to enter an uncertain future where dream and desire have the force of memory …
Wiesel continues to consider what life would be like without hope:
Nothing would elicit our interest because no goal would await us. Hope being the key to freedom, without it life itself would become a prison …
Finally, he concludes:
For just as human beings can push me to despair, only they can help me vanquish it and call it hope.
As we seek (and pray for) a brighter future, talking to one another, respecting one another, and building relationships will help to achieve that goal. May we have the strength and fortitude to continue this endeavor.
Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the TRA.