In the photo above I am proudly holding up the newspaper account of the activities on World Peace Day in Bad Segeberg. I must admit I am unaccustomed to (but gratified by) a review of my sermon in the secular press
It would be hard for me to imagine a more meaningful way to spend the last weekend of 5774 than to participate with the synagogue, churches and the mosque here in Bad Segeberg in World Peace Day.
The Shabbat was very special as Vickie and I saw for the first time the splendor of Mishkan Hazafon (Tabernacle of the North), the synagogue dedicated in Bad Segeberg in 2012. The synagogue sits on a piece of land no one wanted and was built almost completely with volunteer labor. It is a structure of real beauty and spiritual depth. We enjoyed a lovely Shabbat dinner there Friday night and a lively Torah study on Shabbat morning.
Late on Shabbat afternoon we traveled to Kiel to participate in and speak at the Selichot service at the Juedische Gemeinde (Reform synagogue) there on Saturday night. I will also be delivering sermons and offering commentary on the worship in Kiel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As in Bad Segeberg Kiel’s Reform synagogue was built almost completely by the volunteer labor of the community. In both cities the heart, soul, blood sweat and tears of the members who fashioned these structures adds greatly to the sense of sanctity one feels in each place.
The respective leaders of the Bad Segeberg and Kiel communities, Walter Blender and Walter Joshua Pannbacker, are inspiring examples of commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to the task of rebuilding Progressive Jewish life in northern Germany. It is a privilege to know them.
After we returned to Bad Segeberg, our Sunday began with a service at the majestic Marien Lutheran Cathedral in the center of the city. It sent chills up my spine when the Dean of the Cathedral introduced my address to the congregation by saying, “This is the first time in the 800-year history of the church that a rabbi has delivered the sermon.” The response of the congregation to the thoughts I shared was most gratifying.
After the service a wonderful group of Christians, Jews and Muslims traveled in succession to the Roman Catholic church, the Muslim Mosque and the synagogue. We learned a bit about the history of each congregation and enjoyed wonderful informal conversations at the meals each community graciously provided. By the end of the day we were stuffed not only with delicious food, but with an inspiring sense of goodwill and mutual affirmation that Vickie and I will always cherish.
Over the years I have heard many people blame the ills of the world on “organized religion.” My response to that idea is and will remain: “It is not religion that causes problems. It is the inability of people to accept that others have religious views that are different from theirs and to affirm the validity of those beliefs.” Hopefully we can progress toward an era in which we accept, affirm and embrace religious differences! I see great value in learning about how our neighbors’ faiths are both similar to and different from my own.
World Peace Day helped participants in Bad Segeberg to take small steps toward harmony and understanding. May our New Jewish Year that begins tonight see events like World Peace Day multiply around the world, and may they prove small but effective steps in creating a more just, caring and compassionate society for all of God’s children to enjoy!