July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Many communities go through transitions. One ethnic group moves out, another moves in. Most of the time the transition occurs smoothly. Sometimes there is conflict. The same can be said of most societies. By and large our global communities and urban cities are multi-ethnic. Prejudice does unfortunately still rear its ugly head even in our so-called enlightened 21st century. Lately, however, this prejudice has turned to violence. It has happened to Moslems, Hindus, Jews and others whose way of life is somehow abhorrent to those who perpetrate these acts.

The Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County has chosen for its theme for this year’s annual brunch “Welcoming Your Neighbor.” Even before the tragedies of Poway, Monsey and Jersey City, we were concerned about the rising tide of hatred and intolerance that seemed to occur with increasing frequency.

At the brunch each faith group will have a table display relating to this theme. As one of the Jewish representatives to this group, my task is to convey the Jewish tradition regarding welcoming your neighbor. I have also been asked to deliver the invocation. I understand that there may be many in the Orthodox Jewish community opposed to participation in an interfaith group. This particular group does not discuss theology or any “religious” topics. We focus only on that which we have in common. For example, last year’s brunch topic dealt with the environment. If we want respect we have to give it. Two years ago the Moslem snack purchaser for our event at Bergen Community College was constantly on the phone with me about hechsherim.

There are three love commandments in the Torah: love of God, love of the neighbor and love of the stranger. Avraham and Sarah welcomed guests, and built a community. Hachnasat orchim is an important Jewish value. This virtue of hospitality is not simply about standing at a door and welcoming those who choose to walk through that door, but it is about bringing in all guests or strangers. An aspect of hospitality, then, is inclusiveness; it is essential that we depend on each other, support each other and be united together. Being inclusive means bringing people in as part of the larger community. Implicit to being inclusive and hospitable is a welcoming and gracious demeanor.

Tradition often provides three ways in which hachnasat orchim plays a role in our lives today. Between people, hospitality is about bringing in guests, inviting guests and being welcoming. Between you and yourself, this value is about being gracious and accepting of the various traits you might have. Between you and God, this is about thinking of ways in which God can continuously be present in your life, even though you may not realize God is there.

The Torah does not just involve itself in what we would consider “religious” and ceremonial matters. It gives us many commandments that govern how we are to live together. From those commandments we have a window into the attitudes that God wants us to have. The Torah states “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Akiva stated “this is a major tenet in the Torah.” By choosing topics that have universal appeal, the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County unites us by exploring ideas that are regnant in all faith communities.

This year’s interfaith brunch will take place on Monday, February 17, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Seasons, 644 Pascack Road in Washington Township. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under. To order tickets please call 201-873-3263 and leave a message. Checks can be made out to UJA NNJ. Kosher meals are available by request. The speaker will be Imam Sohaib Sultan, the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University. There will be roundtable conversations and a performance.

I encourage members of the Jewish community to attend.


Rabbi Wallace Greene is a member of the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County.

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