A Salute to Jewish Philanthropy – A Tree of Life Quietly and Faithfully Welcoming the Stranger in Our MidstRead MoreRead More
The fatal shooting that claimed the lives of eleven members of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago has left so many in our country shocked and devastated. It has eerie parallels to the church massacre that took place three years ago that took the lives of nine African Americans during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
On behalf of the Imago Dei Fund, my heartfelt condolences to all who lost loved ones at Tree of Life and our prayers and solidarity to our Jewish brothers and sisters, fellow human beings, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow people of faith.
Like many, we are deeply disturbed by the rise of anti-semitic violence (that has spiked by over 57% over the past two years) and disdain for minorities and immigrants that has been walking out in bald form onto our streets and in our newsfeeds in the familiar clothing of nationalism and an eerie cloak of religiosity which is hard to watch. The killer barged into the sacred space of the synagogue while people were worshiping God with the venom of hate in his heart imbibed by the rising tide of both anti-semitism and the refugee work that Tree of Life was so involved in.
In my conversation with Jewish friends and colleagues after the tragedy, I was reminded of observations I have made over the past decade of the particularly values-driven tenor of Jewish philanthropy that I have glimpsed in places far and wide like Haiti, Cambodia, and remote places in Africa where there is barely a Jewish population but where the American Jewish World Service has a presence in the global development ecosystem. But until the Tree of Life tragedy, I didn’t know how deeply engaged Jewish philanthropy and activism was right here in the US living out one its core values: love and welcome of the “stranger in our midst”.
Depending on how much of the coverage you watched, you might not have connected the dots that this synagogue was attacked not only because it is Jewish but also because it is deeply involved in the work of supporting and resettling refugees fleeing violence and war. Shortly before the massacre, the gunman’s hate for not only Jewish people but also refugees and immigrants was proudly posted all over social media: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” In this tragedy, you see in vivid form the fatal intersectionality of two ancient stigmas rising to the surface of the American psyche today: anti-semitism (which has deep roots in Christianity) and fear and disdain of the foreigner.
I am proud to be part of a Christian faith community here in Boston that welcomes newcomers to Boston and lends support to refugees through Christian organizations like World Relief which, along with HIAS, is one of the nine resettlement organizations here in the US that is faithfully continuing to serve refugees despite dramatic cuts in funding and fear of being closed down all together. But there is something different about the tenor of Jewish philanthropy. There is no evangelism mixed in, no echoes of colonialism dressed up in religious clothes. Over the past decade or so of doing philanthropy, I have noticed and admired a number of Jewish women I have interacted with in women’s philanthropic settings who have this dogged commitment to the marginalized and a no-nonsense, practical yet holistic approach to alleviating human suffering that is embodied in the core value of Tikkun Olam which means “Repair the World”.
If you listened to the eulogies at the Tree of Life funeral and the news coverage afterwards, you got a window into what Tikkun Olam looks like on our own doorsteps and around the world: an activism centered on something so basic: being a good neighbor to “strangers” (aka “foreigners”) in our midst. As Christians, we share the same Bible and also have a core value of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” but our witness in the world right now (with many notable exceptions) seems to be falling into the same trap Christianity has fallen into throughout the centuries: getting more swept up with political power and tribal identity than our core spiritual identity as human beings who are all branches of the same Tree of Life and as followers of Christ who are called very simply to love our neighbor as ourself. The work of Tikkun Olam is all of ours and knows no ethnic, religious, or geographic boundaries.
I was just privileged to attend the Black Ministerial Alliance annual dinner last week and felt so lifted by the sense of solidarity, spirituality, and love in the room that made me feel the same Tikkun Olam I sense in my Jewish friends. They are leading a faith-inspired movement in Boston to care for not only their own but for their communities who are made of many races and nationalities, many who are newcomers to Boston. There are many wonderful Christian organizations in Boston, like The Greater Boston Refugee Ministry working in partnership with the Emmanuel Gospel Center, which are doing the work of Tikkun Olam.
So we too have some tikkun Olam in our Christian activism and philanthropy but we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters to center our spirituality and our do-goodism more firmly in this core Biblical principle which appears again and again throughout the Bible—love for the stranger in our midst—but which we have lost touch with, and as a result we have lost something so basic, our very humanity and which is at the core of what philanthropy is all about and is what truly makes any country great:
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as Read More