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The Heart of the Matter

02/24/2017 03:18:49 PM


The Heart of the Matter: My Remarks and Invocation at the DNC Winter Meeting 

Text of his invocation

Welcome to my hometown of Atlanta. When I shared with one of my friends, a devout atheist, that I was given this privilege, he said, “my friend, if there was ever a time for prayer, a place for prayer, it’s here and now.”

Indeed. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.  Just yesterday, the Jewish Community Center in New Orleans was evacuated, due to another bomb threat.  This was nearly the 70th threat to Jewish institutions in 5 weeks.  The children in the nursery school were ushered outside striking fear into the hearts of parents. Here too in Atlanta, we have not been immune to these threats.

My childhood was pockmarked by such anti-semitic incidents. I attended a Jewish Day School here in the 70s and 80s. We witnessed bomb threats, students in tears as the police investigated until declaring it safe.  As I grew older the initial shock wore off as the threats persisted; yet, the more insidious message that we were other and unsafe left its mark. So I know that today’s threats are more sinister than mere hoaxes; they are designed not to just inconvenience or panic; they are perpetrated to convey uneasiness hate, an attempt to isolate and poison the soul. We witness the throngs of people leaving their buildings, pictures of cribs in parking lots, or the toppled and defaced headstones in a St. Louis Jewish cemetery and it sends shockwaves of senseless hatred and immense vulnerability to our core.

And while this rash of threats brings back the worst of my childhood; it reminds me that as a rabbi--and as a gay man, that I must embrace the strange and protect the stranger from oppression and harm. I know the heart of the stranger. These acts that were meant to violate my sense of well-being and isolate me from others instead has made me a fierce lover of humanity and ally of those most vulnerable.  And the good news is that I am in great company.

In this time of Muslim travel bans, bomb threats to Masjids, and Jewish Community Centers; in this time of black churches burning and unarmed black men being shot in the streets; in this time of raids on immigrants and in this time of seeking to diminish the rights of women, LGBT people and the targeting of transgender children there is a growing movement in our country of Muslims, Immigrants, Black and Brown Folks, Christians, Jews, LGBTQ people, Indigenous people, folks with disabilities and citizens of good conscience that are standing together. We are comforting one another and saying we are with “the stranger” in this frenzied time of multi-pronged strategies to diminish, dishearten, intimidate and even eliminate people. When you and I are strangers, we cease being other, invisible, but known and supported.

The luxury of living in bubbles is over; sitting on the sidelines is not an option and neither despair nor overwhelm is a tactic. We are called now to know the heart of the stranger and to act with moral courage for the well being of each other--and for the well-being of our country. This is our prayer and it is calling to each of us to act.

Now is the time to unify a movement where our actions demonstrate that black lives matter, that Islamophobia is dismantled by loving our neighbor, where children are lifted up for being authentic, where the Statue of Liberty welcomes the immigrant; and where we understand that silence = death and the commitment of never again; never forget is tangible.

We are called to do the hardest work of moral courage: the conversions of hearts. As Gandhi taught "It is pure deception to believe that an evil can be eradicated by the passing of a law. What is needed is a conversion of the heart."  In combination with needed policies, legislation and strategies, we must bring humanity back into the center of the enterprise of being a citizen.


I just led a pilgrimage to Guatemala for an organization called World Pilgrims. We take Atlantans of different faiths on pilgrimages around the world so we can learn from and about one another, thus when we return we commit to living in greater unity. In Guatemala, we met a man who remarked that we looked like a motley crew and wanted to know who we were.  Looking at us, we were black, brown and white, young and old, hijab and yarmulke-wearing, gay and straight laughing together and in deep conversation. When we explained we were Muslims, Christians and Jews traveling together, he was bewildered and uttered a one-word question: Intentionally?

In Atlanta, World Pilgrims is 600 strong and when there is a threat to one of our communities, we stand together. And the authentic news is that we are not alone. Around the country when we witness Muslims raising money to help rebuild a desecrated Jewish cemetery; Jews gathering to protect Masjids at Friday Juma, clergy and communities transforming their churches, temples, mosques and synagogues into sanctuaries for immigrants; ministers speaking out against Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and discrimination against LGBTQ people; white allies teaching about privilege and combatting supremacy, lawyers on call for immigrants, people and politicians taking to the airports, the sidewalks, the streets, the places of worship in order to stand with the most vulnerable. This is where hope lives. This is the antidote to fear. Our power resides because we know the hearts of strangers. This is the authentic news that can restore our faith in the USA.

Let us pray:

Source of Hope, do not let fear, overwhelm or despair weigh us down. Bless those in this room, who have a vision of justice, a desire to repair our country and to create a foundation of unity. Grant us profound respect for differing points of view and the healthy understanding that seeking power to feed our egos prevents us from the call of serving. Shake off our complacency and get us up on our feet walking on common ground.

Turn our hearts towards one another and fling them open so we may welcome the stranger. Let us walk together in step with the heartbeat of each other’s struggles; may we seek justice for one another, understanding each other’s pains and dreams.  Inspire our courage to challenge the fear-mongering of other faiths, creeds, races, genders or orientations. Impress upon us that silence in the face of bigotry is a burden our souls cannot bear.  Make the restlessness rise within us so that we have no choice but to risk acting with courage and responsibility for the security and well-being of the other. If we do this together no obstacle is insurmountable, together may we rise, we rise, we rise banishing fear with unwavering love and justice for ourselves and for the other.  Let us say Amen, Ameyn, Amin.

You can watch a video of this here:
(video begins after a few seconds of opening photo)

Thu, June 21 2018 8 Tammuz 5778