Rabbis across the Jewish spectrumhave been taking part in a number of interfaith events to preserve community cohesion amidst the increased tensions in the wake of the terrorist attacks and subsequent war in the Middle East.
Orthodox Rabbi Natan Levy was part of a group of interfaith activists who came together at a tree-planting ceremony in London.
Rabbi Levy, who is the head of operations at the Strengthening Faiths Institution, said: “There have been pressures on some of us, both Jews and Muslims, not to do interfaith work at this time. But if we don’t speak, the voices of division will.”
The 15 trees were planted in Dulwich, south London, to commemorate the late co-chair of Faiths Forum for London, Leonie Lewis, who died last year. The group plan to plant 100 trees across the capital in her memory to show their commitment to a green London.
Rabbi Levy acknowledged: “It’s difficult to talk to my Muslim friends at the moment because our political views are so very different and opinions so deeply divided.
“But I hear more and more about women with hijabs being threatened and yelled at in our neighbourhoods, and I feel that right now is precisely the time when we need to stand together. By digging the earth, planting these trees with imams, priests and people of different faiths, I do feel a small seed of change is being planted with these trees, and that’s so desperately needed right now.”
Mustafa Field, director of Faiths Forum for London, who is Muslim, said the trees would “create a space for gathering together and overcoming differences, not just for us today, but for our children”.
He added that he knew “from my Jewish friends that antisemitic attacks are on the rise, and though a few trees in the ground won’t stop this hatred altogether, it will show how much more effective we can be when we work together.”
Howard Lewis, husband of Leonie, said that she had been “a passionate supporter of interfaith. She loved the trees and this project organised by FFL will preserve her memory.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Neil Janes of South Bucks Jewish Community joined leaders from local Christian, Muslim, Bahai, Hindu and Quaker communities in the council chamber of Buckingham Council in Aylesbury to share prayers for peace.
Accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant in Buckinghamshire, Countess Howe, the religious leaders condemned the five-fold rise in antisemitism in the area since the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on October 7 as well as an increase in Islamophobia.
Rabbi Janes said: “This is about being responsible for our local society, ensuring it reflects the values we hold dear of justice, compassion and peace and against hate. We want to bridge the divides between us in person and online to show there is more that unites us.”
He added: “There is anxiety, fear, and sadness in our local communities, and we were gathered together to model the society we all wish to live in — one of love, respect, tolerance, justice and peace.”
Rabbi Neil Janes (right) attends a vigil with other faith leaders
Maidenhead Synagogue’s Rabbi Jonathan Romain took part in a similar initiative at the local mosque and Islamic centre along with its leader Imam Abid Hashdi and the Reverend Sally Lynch from St Luke’s Church.
“We are very sure that the conflict is a political battle, not a religious war, so there is no reason for us to be enemies too,” said Rabbi Romain. “We are adamant that we will not import back here what is happening over there.”
Imam Hashdi spoke of “the common humanity that members of the three faiths share”, while Rev. Lynch said: “Everyone is suffering, and our hearts bleed for all the innocents caught up in the fighting”.
Rabbi Romain said afterwards that the get-together had not been “out of the blue” but reflected “many years of interfaith co-operation and understanding”.
Rabbi Adrian Schell of Wimbledon Reform Synagogue sang the song for peace, Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, at a gathering at Tooting Underground in south London, attended by more than 100 hundred people, including Shadow Minister for Mental Health Rosena Allin-Khan.
He said: “Embracing the other’s pain, and sharing our own pain has hopefully moved us all one first step closer to our shared vision of peace.”