Monday, November 10, 2014

Chayei Sarah

Genesis 23:1−25:18

Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

The Life of Sarah

This past March I had the wonderful opportunity to co-lead an interfaith Jewish / Roman Catholic tour of Israel sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey and the Catholic Diocese of Camden. It was a special time in the land of Israel. The Pope was just about to make his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The hope for a true and lasting peace - a hope now dimmed by the present conflict - seemed real. There was a sense of optimism that filled the air.

As our small group of Jews and Christians traveled through Israel, we were immediately confronted by the vast number of sites in that small country that are invested with holiness by one or more of the three faith traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While some sites, like the graves of saints, martyrs and sages, only attract the spiritual attention of one of the three traditions, there are many sites that claim the affection of all three religions. As Americans on a very special journey of spiritual discovery, it was easy for us to admire and respect our fellow pilgrims' religious concerns. But, we also became aware of the bitter feelings many of these sites can evoke as people in our group recalled the centuries of strife between the various faith traditions - the struggles between the Christian churches, the conflicts between Christianity and Islam and the oppression and exclusion of the Jews by both of those more powerful religious communities.

Although the sacred nature of many of these holy places in Israel derives from Jewish roots, over the centuries our daughter religions were able to assert their claims to the sites over the claims of the numerically and politically weaker Jewish community. Despite this, the Land of Israel and its holy sites continued to play an important role in the religious and spiritual life of our people. Our ancestors never gave up their claim to these sacred locations.

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