The congregation of all people

I shall never forget what I was doing when Shira Banki was murdered at Jerusalem’s Gay Parade.

Stabbing at J'lem gay-pride parade (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Stabbing at J'lem gay-pride parade
Every Israeli over the age of 25 can remember precisely where he was when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
I shall never forget what I was doing when Shira Banki was murdered at Jerusalem’s Gay Parade.
On Thursday July 30, Israel’s Ahmadi Muslim community held their annual convention at their headquarters in the Kababir neighborhood of Haifa. The event was not just attended by Ahmadis, but by a host of local dignitaries and religious leaders from all faiths and denominations.
I attended, together with Rabbi Dov (Dubi) Hayun, as chairman of Haifa Masorti (Conservative) congregation, Kehilat Moriah.
Out of respect to their observant, Jewish guests, we were served a glatt kosher meal in a side room. We sat around the table, eating drinking and chatting, Masorti Jews together with Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Chabad Orthodox Jews, including the head of Haifa’s Religious Council.
Representatives of the Reform congregations had been invited, but were unable to attend. As Mayor Yona Yahav said in his address, only a non-Jew could succeed in sitting such a diverse selection of Jews around the same table.
When the sumptuous meal was over and it was time to say grace, Rabbi Hayun and I took out our smartphones, complete with digital prayer book. Our Orthodox fellow guests were shocked. How could an observant Jew own a smartphone? Rabbi Hayun, who had already persuaded our new friends that he was no less learned than them, and that the only difference between them and us is that all members of our congregation pray and study together, while they separate between men and women, explained to them that the nature of the smartphone is dependent on the user. It can be used for good or bad. “Just like a knife,” was the simile that Rabbi Hayun used “which we have just used for cutting our food, but others put to violent ends.” Moments later we heard of the stabbings in Jerusalem.
Recalling the story still sends shivers down my spine, but I prefer to stress the positive aspects of the evening. A group of Jews from all denominations were able to sit together and discuss matters of common interest in peaceful harmony, at an event organized by Muslims and also attended by Christians. But why should I be surprised? That is the way in which we live in Haifa, where all sections of the population live together in harmony, and that is the way in which Kehilat Moriah, which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary later this month, has always acted.
For us in Kehilat Moriah, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not just a slogan to displayed on placards at demonstrations.
It is a commandment, which like all commandments, can only be fulfilled through knowledge and understanding.
To this end, for a number of years Moriah congregation has conducted a joint study group together with our neighbors from the Ahmadiyya. By sitting together and studying together we have come to know each other and have become good friends.
Moriah has also conducted a course on the weekly Torah portion with Orthodox groups, and many members of Haifa’s Reform congregations attend our study courses, and come to pray with us.
Moriah is a religious, egalitarian, Zionist congregation, observing halacha, while attuned to the needs of life in 21st century Israel and the city of Haifa. Equality exists not just between men and women, but between all members of the congregation, irrespective of social standing or background.
We are committed citizens of the State of Israel, and our youngsters, men and women alike, serve in select units of the IDF, many of them as commanders.
Moriah provides a home for the oldest branch of Noam, the Masorti youth movement, and a number of pre-school groups.
With such a strong younger generation, on the occasion of our sixtieth anniversary, we can not only look back with pride at our achievements, but be confident that Moriah congregation and the values that we hold dear will continue for many more decades to come.
The author is the chairman of Moriah, Masorti congregation in Haifa.
Moriah congregation’s 60th anniversary celebrations will culminate in a gala evening to be held at Haifa Auditorium on Wednesday, August 26 at 7 pm.