By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
In Donald Trump’s America, responses to attacks on a Mosque and a Jewish cemetery recall a sacred archetype of brotherly love.
In a recent anti-Semitic attack, a historical Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, USA was vandalized leaving over 100 headstones damaged.
In response, two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, created a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise funds for the Jewish Cemetery. The target was set to $20,000 and it was reached in under 5 hours! So far, over 8oo people (mainly Muslims) have donated almost $25,000; and donations tripled overnight after JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author, retweeted a Jewish News story on the campaign to her 10 million followers.
The organizers say: We were inspired by the example of our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who stood up to pay respects for a passing Jewish funeral procession. When questioned on why he stood for a Jewish funeral, he responded, “Is it not a human soul?” [Source: Bukhari].
Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.
And three weeks ago, in the small Gulf Coast city of Victoria, Texas, where there are many churches, but just one synagogue, and one mosque — at least, until the mosque, built in 2000, burned down about 2 A.M. Saturday January 28, 2017.
Now, the synagogue has become a mosque: because the Jews of Victoria handed the Muslims the key to their synagogue building, so they could share a place to worship while rebuilding their own Mosque.
“Everyone knows everybody, I know several members of the mosque, and we felt for them,” said Robert Loeb, the president of Bnai Israel, which affiliates with the Jewish Reconstructionist movement.
On Sunday January 29, the Victoria community held an interfaith event in front of the mosque. Through local donations and a GoFundMe page, the mosque raised over $900,000 from 18,000+ people by Monday to rebuild the mosque.
This account of brotherly love is a modern descendant of the following archetypical fable, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries; and finally written down in several different versions in the 19th century.
The fable illustrates how two holy places can be as closely connected as two lungs, even though they are far apart geographically and exist in different religious worlds. Some say this happened in the generation when Abraham was born.
“Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father divided the land in half so that each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meagre. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought: “My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night, the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged, said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I will take more.”
That same morning, the older brother, standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.
After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I will make no mistake—I will take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.
When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened!
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.”
Only God can make something holy, and God thought the brothers’ love and concern for each other made their descendants worthy to rebuild a primordial Holy House in this valley; and later to build a new Holy House on that far hill. So God sent Messengers to their descendants to guide them to do this.
Christians and Jews say the hilltop is Jerusalem. Muslims say the valley is Makka. I say they are both right. God gave humans two lungs to recycle the holy spirit within humans, among humans and between humans and God.
When all those, both near and far, who revere these sacred places as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then Abraham’s request for Allah to “make this a land of peace, and provide its people with the produce of the land” (Qur’an 2:126) will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Adam, Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
[Rabbi Allen S. Maller is a Reform Rabbi, currently based in the United States. His writings can be seen on his website RabbiMaller.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]