Violence is the order of the day in many corners of our country and our world. This election season has generated so much emotional violence. After Nov. 8, we must come together as families, communities and a nation. On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13, the diverse community of Great Neck is collaborating on a conference entitled: “The Art of Forgiveness, An Interfaith Forum,” featuring prominent Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist clergy. (See details below)
The religious leaders will share the insights of their faith on two profound concerns: a forgiveness given that was never requested, much less earned; and the hate and rage and bitterness that we carry throughout our days.
Witness-survivors from each faith tradition will share their extraordinary stories of forgiveness.
Anthony Thompson, husband of Myra Thompson, one of the Charleston 9 murdered in June 2015, and Kadi Diallo, mother of Amadou, who was killed in 1999 by police, are two of the participating witness-survivors. They will share their courageous spiritual journeys to forgiveness. In addition, a leader in our Great Neck Jewish community, Farangiss Sedaghatpour, will share her journey from profound bitterness toward her homeland — for being stripped and robbed of her childhood, and of cherished generations of family attachments — toward a newfound place of forgiveness.
The seeds of this interfaith forum were planted July 1, 2015, when we (Tara and Meir Feldman) made a shiva call to Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and witnessed the courageous forgiveness of devastated family members two days after the horrific murder of their loved ones. We participated in the Wednesday evening Bible class where, repeatedly, we heard deep statements of faith. We were moved to the core by the forgiveness that we witnessed, by the congregants’ capacity for joy, and by the power of a forgiving faith to transform lives.
What followed was a deep encounter between our two communities. In November 2015, eight sisters of Myra Thompson came to Temple Beth-El in Great Neck for a beautiful Shabbat weekend of learning and sharing. Together with Orthodox rabbis, Muslim leaders and our Charleston brothers and sisters, we organized an intimate interfaith clergy gathering focused on forgiveness and anger. It was a truly extraordinary evening, which ultimately gave birth to this interfaith forum on forgiveness.
Both the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Talmud state that redemption will come to the Jewish people only by means of teshuva, the forgiveness we give and seek. Every night, with our bedtime recitation of the Shema, we offer this prayer: “I hereby forgive anyone who harmed me today, whether by intention or by accident…”
In truth we don’t even need Maimonides, the Talmud and our daily liturgy to know the truth about our redemption. We know very well from our own lives that peace and harmony are built in our homes by daily, small and yet critical acts of forgiveness — between spouses, parents and children and friends. How well we know that so many relationships die because of our stubborn inability and unwillingness to forgive actions that we ourselves have committed.
It’s not just in our homes that forgiveness can move mountains. Last summer we saw it in South Carolina. Where political activism failed for many decades, spirituality and a forgiving faith prevailed. In three weeks’ time, the forgiveness of five faithful souls brought down the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate and injustice that had stood for 150 years.
Great Neck is filled with diverse voices representing our many immigrant and religious traditions. During the Nov. 11-13 weekend, synagogues, churches, temples and mosques are organizing to bring the community together for this forgiveness conference. The weekend will include Sabbath and family meals with conversations about forgiveness, a forum featuring a panel of leading voices and witness-survivors and a collaborative, interfaith musical experience, organized by local cantors and Dr. Nigel Gretton of St. John’s University.
The leading Jewish voice will be Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founder of Lincoln Square Synagogue and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel. The UJA-Federation of New York and the American Jewish Committee are among the many community partners. Robert Silverman, director of Muslim-Jewish relations at the AJC, will serve as moderator for the forum.
Rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman serve Temple Beth-El in Great Neck. For more information and to attend the events open to the general community on Sunday, Nov. 13, visit forgivenessGN.org.