Not much makes me apoplectic. I value the spectrum of beliefs, opinions, world-views that reflect the diversity of the human experience. I do not expect . . . indeed would not want . . . everyone to be like me. (One of me is enough!)
I'm a rabbi, I've got some very strong convictions and commitments. One of them is that God created humanity with free will, with curiosity, intelligence and the capacity to aspire . . . and that God expects us to use these gifts.
When people say they are speaking in the name of religion and condemn the curiosity, intelligence and capacity to aspire of any other human being, I get angry. When people say they are speaking in the name of religion and incite others to verbal and/or physical violence, I get angry.
I'm a rabbi. Obviously, I don't agree with Jessica Ahlquist that God does not exist. On the other hand, the voices that have been raised against her in the name of religion have now convinced this young woman that the world of faith is a world she would never, ever want to explore. Hence my apoplexy.
I am grateful to my good friend and colleague, Reverend Donald Anderson, Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, for creating a platform for a wide spectrum of real religious leaders in our state to raise our voices in an interfaith harmony of tolerance, mutual respect and civility . . . in faith.
I share with you, below, my statement at our January 24th press conference. If you are interested in reading the statements of others at that press conference, click here.
I am Rabbi Amy Levin of Temple Torat Yisrael, here in Cranston. I also serve as the Vice-President of the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis.
When Jessica's concerns about the prayer banner in the Cranston West High School auditorium were being discussed about a year and a half ago, i held a discussion with members of my congregation who grew up in Cranston and attended Cranston West in the1960s. I asked them how they had felt as Jewish students sitting in the auditorium with the prayer banner on the walls. They told me that they felt uncomfortable, that their parents felt uncomfortable with the prominently-displayed school prayer in the room in which the school assembled. They told me that in the 1960s, their parents were afraid to speak about against the presence of that school prayer. Fifty years later, Jessica has given public voice to the discomfort of generations of students who came her. She has voiced concerns that those parents were hesitant to raise fifty years ago. She has been subjected to the treatment that others feared to bring upon themselves.
For all that a religious declaration addressed to Our Father in Heaven does not belong on the walls of a public high school, I would suggest that anyone who has internalized the values expressed in that prayer would never verbally or physically attack or threaten to attack a person who does not identify with a statement addressed to God. Walking the talk of that Cranston West prayer banner means discourse with mutual respect and honor for every human being created by God.
As one of the clergy assembled today, I have come to reassure every person of faith in our State that taking down this banner can never pose a threat to anyone's faith. Your faith goes with you wherever you go . . . Faith needs no banner to live in our hearts.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.