The God Squad: Are you OK? The real purpose of interfaith dialogue
I remember it. Jan. 17, 1991, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein sent the first of 42 scud missiles into Israeli territory. Miraculously, casualties were minimal but the sight of it and the terror of it and the fact that it was all there to see on CNN glued me to my television and sunk me into my couch and my despair.
I love Israel and the memories of my fear at the 1973 Yom Kippur War had faded in my memories. The vulnerability of a place I love and people I love was palpable and inescapable. The slogan of the Holocaust was “Never again” and that night in 1991 I had to face a ripening fear that “Never again” was, in fact, just a slogan. In real life and real international conflicts there is no never. There is only again.
In the middle of my despair the doorbell rang and it was Tommy. Father Tom Hartman, my partner in the God Squad for what was at the time four years, was standing there and entered my house and gave me a big hug. While he was hugging me he whispered in my ear, “Are you OK? I thought you might need a friend tonight to watch the news with you.” We sat down and watched the tapes of missiles meant to kill not soldiers holding a position but just anyone.
We watched pictures of children wearing gas masks and people sheltering in safe rooms that were not really safe at all. Tommy and I did not really talk much that night of terror. We just sat together. Two friends who needed to be together to make it through the night.
Tonight, I feel the same way but tonight there is nobody at the front door. I am looking at a picture of an old woman in a wheelchair being taken hostage by terrorists. I am looking at a picture of a woman being separated from her brother as they are taken hostage. I am looking at a tent filled with 120 body bags filled with corpses who were about to be taken hostage. I am sick to my stomach with anger and fear.
What I realize now is that interfaith dialogue is not just some theological exercise in which people of different faith traditions share abstract arguments about the nature of God and salvation. The true meaning of interfaith dialogue is that it enables us to feel the pain of another person who has come from another path up the same mountain to God. It is a way to know and to feel and to trust that you are not alone in your life journey and that things that go bump in your night are also felt in your friend’s night. The reason for this is that you are bound by bonds of love and faith. The faith is different but the love is the same.
So, on this night and on all the nights that are certain to follow this one, let me encourage, let me beg you, my dear Christian readers, who have formed your own God Squads — your own deep friendships with Jews — to ring their doorbells and give them a hug and whisper in their ears, “Are you OK?”
Pray for Israel.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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