In 1893, a a 17-day “Parliament of the World’s Religions” was held in Chicago, Illinois. At the convocation’s opening day events on September 11, a young man named Swami Vivekananda, representing the nation of India as well as the Hindu religion worldwide, addressed the gathering with the following words:
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen.
108 years later, on that very same day, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and maybe the White House too, reminding us that “the death-knell of all fanaticism” is a long ways away.
With each New Year, our community gathers to rearticulate a vision handed down to us by our ancestors. On Rosh Hashanah morning, we will read from Mishkan HaNefesh of Judaism’s challenge to us:
You have made everything wondrous after its kind. The x molecule hooks the y molecule. Mountains rise with utmost gravity, snow upon their shoulders. A congress of crows circulates through the maize whose sheen brightens through a breezeless morning. […] You have done enough, Engineer. How dare we ask You for justice. (Mishkan HaNefesh – Rosh Hashanah, page 171)
That task is ours. To build a fair and compassionate society, we will need to work side-by-side with people of all colors, all religions, all nationalities, all genders and sexual orientations … all of us, together, impassioned if not impatient for peace.
May this be the year when Vivekananda’s words don’t merely grace the steps of the Art Institute in Chicago (see below), but adorn our hearts, our breath, and our every step through life.
L’shana tova … may it be a sweet year, a year of peace for all,
Billy, Ellen, Katie, Mark and Aiden