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During this week of Passover and Easter observances around the world, we have an opportunity for reflection.
Passover is a celebration of human freedom and the rejection of slavery, bondage, and oppression. It is the oldest holiday in the world celebrating these ideas. At this time of year we are reminded of the Jewish obligation to be concerned for others: The Torah admonishes us: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 22:20). And in case you missed that obligation when you read Exodus, we are reminded again in Deuteronomy: “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Duet: 10:19).
We live in a time when refugees are demonized, and the most vulnerable among us are exploited. Hate crimes are also on the rise: in 2017, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents, most of which were religiously motivated. Through programs such as our Master’s in Interfaith Leadership, Gratz is helping to prepare educators, advocates, and scholars who can counter this narrative with one that is based in compassion, understanding, and the ability to hear what others say. Dr. Ruth Sandberg, the founder and director of Gratz’s Interfaith degree program, calls it the “the spiritual courage” we need to engage with one another in true dialogue.
As you prepare for you Passover Seder or your Easter Sunday meal, I hope you will take a moment to watch the interview on NBC last Sunday featuring Professor Sandberg and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who is known as “The Pope’s Rabbi” for his long-time friendship and collaboration with Pope Francis. Professor Sandberg and Rabbis Skorka can inspire all of us to respond to rising hatred and disdain for others with empathy, respect, and “spiritual courage.”