Notes from breakfast meeting with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield 5/26/11

Rabbi Hirschfield met for breakfast at the Temple Beth Zion Broder building with members of the Network of Religious Communities and Building Bridges in Western New York.  The following summarizes his comments during the discussion about interfaith work and its challenges. 

Hard work

“Need to get past eating hummus together and what feels good… need to get past affirming what we already believe

“The hard work is where in our lives we do things outside our comfort zone… figuring out how to work together when we disagree… how to tell someone they’re wrong without them leaving the room… if you don’t feel like giving up at times, you’re not doing the hard work… can’t ignore the hard problems without things ultimately blowing up… mediation is better than litigated divorce, but it’s rarely done because it’s hard… the most significant interfaith work is what goes on inside yourself…”

“Why do you do what you do?  Personal journey, passion, inherited, makes me feel good…  Imagine the person who is ‘the problem’ – they define why they do what they do in the exact same way.”

“Everyone needs a community to give strength by reaffirming your personal beliefs… but where do we go to disagree without savaging each other?”

“In the past, most interfaith encounters were a religious show and tell… started in Chicago on 9/11 [see 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions]…”

“Sometimes ‘working it out’ means going your separate way, sometimes it’s staying together forever…”

“Agreeing to disagree” is akin to “Besides what just happened, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

“We call people ideologues when they don’t agree with us, insightful when they do…”

“It hurts the most when the community you identify with does things you don’t like…”

“We do this because it’s who we are, not because of what we expect in return… if it’s about reciprocity, you could never do anything with anyone who isn’t already where you are…”

“We all have an agenda… admit you have one… it has come to have a negative connotation… when it’s ours, it’s a ‘vision’ or ‘plan’… ”

“We assume wrongness is badness… MY vision may be YOUR vision of what’s wrong… it shouldn’t mean that I’m a bad person…”

“A serious Jewish principle is giving people the benefit of the doubt.”

Teaching, learning, doing

“You can’t be someone’s teacher unless you’re willing to be their student as well…”

“All positions are not equal… I’m not a relativist…”

“I live with the animating principle the God never made anyone so smart as to be right 100% of the time, nor so stupid to be 100% wrong…”

“A wise person is someone who can learn from every other human being… not everyone is a good teacher but everyone has something to teach…”

“Groundbreaking can be ‘they stood on the stage together and the world didn’t fall apart’…”

“Planting seeds can be scary because you don’t know what will come up… weed away, but what you think is a weed might be a gift…”

“Judaism can be everything to someone.  So can Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc…”

Sacred envy

“Wishing you could be like others, but deeply rooted that you’re not going there… true envy, not just admiration…”

“We love traditions we’re part of BECAUSE of certain things, and DESPITE certain things… I love my religious tradition (or significant other) not because others are stupid, ugly, or mean, but because I just love it…”

“Ask yourself ‘What is it I love the most about my faith community?  What am I most proud of?  What am I ashamed of?  What are you truly envious of in other faith communities?  What am I really angry about in other faith communities?’…”

“The claim of religious perfection only leads to strife and bloodshed…”

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