Remarks for Vigil for the Church of the Nazarene
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, it was not to experience our newfound power. It was not to be confirmed in our moral superiority. It was not to undo the lessons of our suffering. Between the fire and thunder of Sinai, a moral voice rang out clearly with a principle that would be echoed in our tradition time and again:
You shall love the stranger for you were strangers in Egypt.
The Rabbis of the Talmud claim that this ethical teaching was given no less than 36 times in the Torah. We read in the Book of Deuteronomy that cherishing the stranger is part of the fabric of Creation and the will of God:
“Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For the Eternal your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.— You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Deut. 10:16-19
Our shared sacred Scripture – so precious to both our Jewish tradition and to your Christian tradition – is crystal clear: our journey out of bondage is meant to undo the bondage of our own hearts; to unlearn implicit bias, to lay down the burden of fear, to cultivate within us radical empathy, to uncover from our eyes the great and awesome vision that states that every human being is created in God’s image. It is God’s very Self Who is the spiritual guarantor of those who are most vulnerable.
The values of both our traditions will not be compromised in the face of hatred and bigotry. Instead, we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, strengthened in our commonality of purpose and clarity of faith. We will welcome the stranger as Abraham did at the entrance of his tent in the Book of Genesis. We will entertain angels unaware as the Christian scriptures teach us by opening our homes and hearts to all. We come together as a community, of all faiths and none, to pledge our solidarity and support, to commit to vigilance and the work of justice, and to fulfill the injunction of Psalm 146: to feed the hungry, release the bound, give sight to the blind, to raise those bound down and to protect the stranger. In the words of Yosi ben Yochanan, a contemporary of Jesus: “May your house be open wide, and may the poor be members of your household.” (Pirke Avot 1:5).
Pastor Stecker, brothers and sisters of the Church of the Nazarene, beloved Iowa Citians: we of the Jewish Community stand unreservedly with your congregation and our community. May God bless the work of our hands and unite our hearts in friendship. Amen selah.
I will now read a prayer written in your honor by Rabbi Menachem Creditor:
we stand together in pain,
and in our pain we stand closer together.
When we stand together,
we remember the truth of scripture:
when more human beings,
each an indelible Divine Image,
it is a greater reflection of You, O God.
This is not a singular act of hatred,
nor is it limited to this sacred home.
By targeting a church with both antisemitic images and racist language, these vandals accidentally pointed to a truth we know too well: hatred against one is hatred against all.
We know what it is to be strangers.
Tradition reminds us
over and over and over again:
be kind and just to the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
This message, engraved in our very souls points the way forward, out from the constricting confines of every Egypt we face.
We will know each other
and be strangers no more.
We will remember each other’s worth,
learn each other’s stories,
and testify that God’s children are capable of a love that is stronger than the darkness.
On this day, the anniversary of Anne Frank’s passing, we promise to remember her blessing to us all: “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”
We are different and yet the same,
both aspects human reflections
of Your Infinite Presence.
Beloved friends, we have work to do. We do so gladly, resolutely, hand in hand.
May our friendships deepen,
and may God bless our fragile world