Faith groups join to mourn slain Mideast teenagers.
As the war raged between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, more than 250 people, wearing a variety of kippot, hats and hijabs, gathered at Manhattanville College’s Reid Castle. They were there on July 30 for a two-hour memorial service marking the end of shloshim, the initial 30-day mourning period for the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teenagers — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach — and the slain Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
The group included Muslims, Jews and Christians, with prayers offered in Hebrew and Arabic as well as English, representing the different faith traditions.
Initially organized by AJC Westchester, the evening had the support of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; the United Methodist Church; the Archdiocese of New York; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Hudson River Presbytery; the Turkish Cultural Center of Westchester and The Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville College.
Many Westchester synagogues were also sponsors, as were Hillels of Westchester, Mamaroneck United Methodist Church, Bedford Presbyterian Church, Yusuf Shah Mosque, Bezer Holiness Church and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church of White Plains, among others.
The interfaith service, said Clifford Wolf, co-chair of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations Committee for AJC Westchester, “came about from the desire of a few individuals involved in their own neighborhood interfaith discussions to reach out across the divide to mourn and pray with the ‘other side.’ It rapidly snowballed, filling a great need some people have to prioritize joining together and ending conflict, rather than, or in addition to, presenting their own perspectives. Once we find a common ground, and develop some level of trust, we can then express our viewpoints and listen to others.”
It was significant on many levels, said Wolf. “This was historic as a Jewish/Christian/Muslim memorial service for individual Israeli and Palestinian kids during wartime, led by rabbis and cantors, pastors and priests, imams, Mormons and Quakers. It is unusual that the major denominational organizations whose logos are on the program (as compared to individual houses of worship) united together in this region and were willing to sponsor a prayer service for peace with ‘both sides’ while so much damage is being inflicted, and so much suffering is going on.”
The evening included Mourner’s Kaddish and El Malei Rachamim; biblical and Islamic text study; reading and chanting from the Koran, and prayers from various Christian clergy, as well as a two-minute silent meditation from the Quaker tradition.
“This is a dialogue of friendship,” said Rev. Wilfred Tyrrell, a Catholic chaplain and interfaith coordinator of the Manhattanville College Duchesne Center. “We are here to show that religion can be a solution to complex world problems. This is a service of faith and healing.”
The evening pointedly avoided politics, focusing instead on spiritual needs and prayer.
“For me, the need to blame and judge is buried deep below the need to weep and mourn,” said Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, general presbyter of the Hudson River Presbytery. “Tonight we are not here to understand, explain or justify. We are here to cry out. We gather as one in the image of God. Our common humanity is thicker than blood, tribe or ancestral lands. All of us are spiritual siblings.”
No matter that the tranquil Manhattanville campus, in quiet Westchester County on a perfect summer’s evening, seemed worlds away from the conflict in the Middle East and around the globe.
As Rev. Andrews said, “What we do in our homes, hearts and suburban communities can be flickering lights cursing the darkness of a violent world, and can model for the world a great span of hope.”
That theme was underscored repeatedly by many of the evening’s speakers.
Abdul Majeed of Mt. Vernon’s Yusuf Shah Mosque said, “Our humble prayer is that peace may be established wherever there is conflict. Conflict has the same universal pain.”
For Temple Israel Center’s Rabbi Gordon Tucker, who spoke about his recent encounter in Israel with the mother of the slain Naftali Fraenkel, a compelling message of the service pivoted on the need “not to surrender to fear and pain, but assert our common humanity.”
Many of those in attendance had been drawn by a desire to find exactly that.
Robin Friedman, a member of Temple Israel Center, has a son and daughter-in-law living in Israel, said she had come to the event “looking for ways to make connections. These relationships are ultimately the only thing we can do that will make a difference.”
And for Nabila Albarghouthy, a Muslim-American Palestinian born in Jewish Jerusalem, “This is truly my passion, to see the monotheistic faiths come together. Through love, peace and dialogue is how we’ll achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Which was very much the purpose of the gathering, said organizers.
“When people pray together,” said the AJC’s Wolf, “they are less likely to mistrust, hate or hurt each other.”
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