Filmmaker Michael Moore is out with an interesting open letter that's worth a read, however you feel about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque issue, because of its passion and articulation and his citation of George Washington's famous letter to the Jews. In the letter, a vintage copy of which can be found on display at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Washington writes:
"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens ... May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants -- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."
As can be expected from the producer of "Fahrenheit 9-11", "Sicko" and "Capitalism: A Love Story," Moore's a bit off the wall when he cites Crazy Eddie (Antar), Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson as equivalent "crazies" of the Jews, Mormons and Protestants, respectively, to Muslim terrorists, but you have to respect his passion for what he believes in. Moore is promising to match the first $10,000 in contributions he solicits for the Park 51 project, even though Imam Faisal Rauf hasn't begun fundraising for it yet.
It will be up to the reader to agree or disagree about whether Park 51, or Cordoba House, or whatever you want to call the controversy is a clear case of religious freedom. But it's always good to hear the views of all sides.
I thought of religious freedom quite a bit over Rosh HaShanah, particularly because the New Jersey hotel where I spent the holiday with my family was also the site of a concurrent Hindu wedding. At one point, while the haftarah was being read in shul, a large number of Jewish guests found themselves lured to the parking lot, where the groom and a younger relative sat on an elaborarely decorated white horse. In this ceremony, which I now know is called Barat Nikas, the groom is surrounded by revelers in brightly colored garments who dance and sing traditional songs as he is escorted to the wedding, much like the scene at an Orthodox wedding, where the groom is led from the chasan's tisch to the bedekin (generally sans horse) as friends, often linking arms, sing.
"It's so lebedik," said an Orthodox woman in a sheitel as she watched the Hindu ceremony, using a Yiddish term for joyous.
The wedding ceremony itself took place at lunch time as several hundred Jewish hotel guests dined on a terrace overlooking a large field and gazebo. The stage, known as mandap, of course reminded many observers of the chuppa. "They got everything from us," said a rabbi sitting near me, and I regret not asking if he was kidding. As the yontiff meal and the Gathabandhan ceremony -- in which the wedding couple literally tie the knot -- progressed together, I observed that Jews and Hindus have at least one other ritual bond: Long speeches and clerics who like to explain each ritual.
America is far from the only country where this scene could happen. But it was still inspiring to watch and think about how this country is full of people and families and communities who want the best of both worlds: seeking out freedom and opportunity while preserving the traditions they took with them from the other side of the world.
Imam Rauf has indicated that he has not ruled out relocating his Cordoba House to what others would consider a respectful distance from the World Trade Center site. Or he may choose to brave the firestorm and stay put. Whatever the outcome, when the political dust settles, people on all sides of the issue should reaffirm our most prominent founding father's words that this nation "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance [and] requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens."
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