Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Muslims and Jews Celebrating Christmas Eve Together

This past Thursday evening, our Temple observed Christmas Eve by participating in the age-old Jewish tradition of Chinese food and a movie.  Well, two movies, actually.  An early film for youngsters (which drew a lot of adults, too) and a later film for a more mature crowd.  Although the event seems stereotypical, it serves a worthwhile purpose for our community and, by the sound of email and Facebook posts from colleagues, many other communities as well.

During dinner, which took place during the intermission, we hosted as our guests members of the Madina Community Mosque of Madison.  Their imam came as well, and enjoyed his vegetarian egg roll, among other great foods.  Among many other similarities, Muslims and Jews have comparable dietary customs, and everyone seemed to like Chinese food.  So it was an easy and fun evening.  But it also had a serious side and origin.

You see:  Over the last few weeks, I have been speaking to Saad, a member of the mosque and owner of a local coffee shop, about the incendiary and bigoted comments about Islam by the racist and xenophobic presidential candidate Donald Trump.  We spoke about Trump's ignorant rantings and the great number of followers that Trump has inspired.  Another notable Wisconsin example of prejudice included Bruce Hagen, the mayor of the city of Superior, who made anti-Muslim statements about President Obama over the last few weeks.

But most of our recent concern, and our conversation on December 24, focused on Trump.  The fact that most of Trump's fellow candidates, as well as many in the Republican leadership, refuse to directly and forthrightly call him out for the bigot that he is, is disappointing enough.  What is more disturbing is the degree to which, perhaps, millions of other Americans align with his views and make no excuse for it.

I recall stories my parents told me about Father Charles Coughlin, Catholic priest and radio broadcaster of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, who became rabidly anti-Semitic in his messages.  Through his broadcast speeches he brought to thousands, perhaps millions, a message of hate of Jews analogous to that of Trump's anti-Muslim mania.  The fact that Trump strives to be the next president has meant that his populism has grown broader than Coughlin's, and his meager and his followers appear oddly well-positioned for making a significant impact on the election.

Our Muslim guests welcomed our support, and we all vowed that we would meet again.  The imam and I will find ways to bring about more knowledge and understanding.  We look forward to the opportunity of getting to know one another better.

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