Article appeared in the ” Jewish Journal ” on July 24, 2017
My father, Rabbi Samuel Silver, was a confirmed pacifist, but when World War II broke out, Jewish GIs needed a chaplain overseas, so my father, who was past the age of the compulsory draft, volunteered to join with the Greatest Generation to help save the world from Nazi and Japanese savagery and barbarism. He was sent to the Philippines, which was the scene of horrific suffering and carnage. Under such circumstances, the GIs did not have the luxury of being comforted by a chaplain of their particular denomination, so my father served all GIs in his vicinity, regardless of their religious backgrounds.
When faced with a common enemy, and under such dire circumstances, differences of race, color and creed seem insignificant and fade away under the brush of the jungle, the threat of death and the need for mutual protection among the soldiers.
Forged by the crucible of this experience, the armed forces soon became integrated and my father became convinced that one of his lifetime missions as a rabbi would be to use religion to bring people together and to seek an end to the scourge of hate, war and intolerance. He became one of the first rabbis in the country to officiate at interfaith weddings, despite the ostracism and censure that this often caused among his colleagues and rabbinical associations. It also led him to join with other religious leaders to form the Temple of Understanding, an organization which continues to this day and enjoys NGO status with the United Nations.
The profound impact of my father’s service in WWII, is still keenly felt at Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor today where interfaith weddings, the Interfaith Justice League and people of all religions join together in dialogue, brotherhood and social action.
My father taught me that the word religion shares the same root as the word ligament. The “lig” in ligament and in religion means to bind together, and just as a ligament binds parts of the body together, religion should unite all people together as one family, and should bind us together with the highest ideals of our faith, the noblest aspirations of the human species and the most sublime virtues in ourselves. Sadly, history has too often shown that this is not always the case. Why is this so? Because religion is often divorced from reason, and too often retains vestiges of humanity’s tribalistic past, which Einstein referred to as the “measles of mankind.” In religion this has often resulted in bloodshed, as so-called adults engage in childish competition of my religion is better than your religion, my book is better than your book, or my imaginary Father in the sky is better than your imaginary Father.
To try to counter this unpleasant tendency in religion, our synagogue engages in many interfaith activities, highlighted by our annual Yom Kippur interfaith dialogue, where leaders of diverse religions and atheism, join together to exchange views and answer questions from the audience about their beliefs on a host of interesting topics. We are often asked why on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar we invite non-Jews to join us. The reason is simple. On Yom Kippur we atone for our sins, and one of the gravest sins of religion has been to build walls of separation rather than bridges of understanding. According to Jewish tradition, the best way to atone, is not merely to say “I’m sorry” but to take concrete action to reverse one’s ways. Thus, there is nothing more Jewish, and no better time to bring the religions together, than on Yom Kippur. Our sages have noted that “atone” can also be written “at one” thus, we seek to be “at one” with all people on this sacred day and to set “a tone” of harmony and reconciliation, which has been the raison d’etre of the Jewish people throughout the ages as envisioned by our prophets of old.
All are welcome to attend our Yom Kippur Interfaith Dialogue to help us pursue this goal.
Silver is spiritual leader of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Boynton Beach.