By Harriet P. Gross
I have so much yet to share with you about my recent visits to Eastern Europe’s once-great, now vanished centers of Jewish life. So it’s more than a bit ironic that, on this very day, Yom HaShoah 2012 — the date chosen as Holocaust Remembrance Day because it marks the start of the brave Warsaw ghetto uprising — I’m postponing our virtual walk through historic streets as I take a side trip to share a dilemma I faced about tonight:
Should I attend the annual Dallas Holocaust Memorial program at Temple Shalom? Or should I accept an invitation to join a group of women who will be meeting at that time to bring The Daughters of Abraham to our city?
The Daughters already meet in many cities across this country and in Canada. They are Jewish, Christian and Muslim women who read, talk, even eat together on a regular monthly schedule. The idea was born in September 2001, when Edie Howe joined women of all faiths in a Cambridge, Mass., church to begin dealing with the aftermath of 9-11. The group she was inspired to found began with discussions of books rooted in the three faiths descended from the one man who gave monotheism to the world. Edie died of breast cancer a few years ago, but the inspired movement lives on as her memorial.
“We could have named ourselves after our mothers, Sarah and Hagar,” the Daughters say. “But that would highlight our differences. By naming ourselves after our father Abraham, we are saying that there is more holding us together than dividing us.”
The initial local meeting of what many — and I’m one of them — hope will become a thriving group here is being spearheaded by the dedicated Jewish women of Temple Emanu-El. And it was one of them, a good friend of mine, who asked me to come to the first get-together this evening. But I was concerned: Did the incipient Daughters not notice that their timing was poor? Didn’t they see that they would be in conflict with our community’s official recognition of the Holocaust, its tribute to the ever-decreasing number of survivors in our midst, its resolute answer to those who still maintain that this most horrible human tragedy of all time never happened?
I told my friend that I thought the date was inauspicious to say the least, and that I couldn’t even consider attending, although I’m a long-time supporter of interfaith dialogues of all kinds. I became active with the National Conference of Christians and Jews way back, when I was in college. And as a young mother, I was part of a national initiative called “Panel of American Women,” which sent us to speak honestly before various groups on how our religions and ethnicities impacted our own lives. (Each Panel team included a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew and an African-American, but no Muslim, since there were virtually none to be seen on the U.S. landscape a half-century ago).
So at first I was terribly off-put by her answer to my objection: “For me, opening a dialogue of this nature is a fitting way to keep another Shoah from happening.” Maybe it’s even a kind of tikkun olam, she suggested.
Well — I thought I knew all about repairing at least local worlds! In my pre-Dallas, suburban Chicago life, I served on our town’s Human Relations Commission and worked hard for years to stabilize local communities as integrated ones during a time of rapid “white flight” and accompanying resegregation. So I sent my friend another message — a rather terse one, I’m afraid: “I can’t quite agree with you … There are other groups of this kind already going strong that are more sensitive to dates of this kind … However, ‘sobre gustos,’ as the Spanish say … ” Then I added my favorite line from the great Confucius: “One way is not for all.”
But I’ve been thinking: Maybe I was too harsh, too quick with my response. Maybe it is right to begin a new attempt at intergroup understanding, a new effort to make “Never Again!” a reality, on this very evening.
So this is my apology for hasty pre-judgment. Tonight, I will be at Temple Shalom, but part of my heart will be with the women becoming Daughters of Abraham in our city. And I hope they’ll know I’m opting out for this evening only, and will allow me to join with them next time.