There was plenty of physical sunlight present during the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 10. But as hundreds of people gathered for the annual Unity Walk at the Washington Hebrew Congregation on Macomb Street NW, another type of light had shone.
Just ask Rabbi Bruce Lustig. “Hatred doesn’t have the power to include intelligence and discernment,” he told a crowd of hundreds gathered in the synagogue’s auditorium before commencing the walk. “Love does! The face of America is when we come together. We’re here to bring light.”
It’s the light that shines when people of different faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds, and walks of life come together to stand up to, and perhaps disinfect, hate, prejudice, bigotry and demagoguery.
The enthusiastic group of walkers – a cross-section of not only different faiths, but ages, generations, races, and nationalities – ambled down the streets of a well-manicured residential neighborhood of D.C., expressing optimism and openheartedness. It was apparent on the T-shirts they wore with uplifting messages emblazoned on them, such as “unapologetically Muslim.” It was apparent on the smiles they had as they walked shoulder to shoulder for a few miles. That good will had also shone during visits to different houses of worship, including a Sikh temple where hundreds broke bread together over a plate of rice and vegetable stew.
If one gets the impression from various news shows that the country is divided, with people living in their relatively safe, communal silos and not taking one step into the vast social fabric farm that takes the form of a diverse community, this walk was not the place to be at. It was the opposite of the mood that was present a little more than 100 miles south in Charlottesville, Va., a few weekends earlier.
“We view each other as brothers and sisters. We should be able to find peace,” said one member of the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington.
Walter Ruby of the Muslim Jewish Federation put it this way, “We’ve been engaged for 10 years. There’s been a real structure. We have hundreds of people standing up against hate.”
He said Muslims and Jews need each other, since both are battling big enemies and hateful ideologies, in the form of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism.
“From what I see, we see each other as cousins. We have a lot of similarities, we take wisdom from one another. We need to support one another and do social action together.”
Ruby said one of the best ways to counter hate is by doing good, such as feeding the hungry. Islamic Relief USA, which was one of the sponsors of the walk and had several volunteers participating in the walk, is among the organizations that tries to do just that by helping people in more than 40 nations to overcome poverty, hunger, and homelessness, among other social ills.
Andra Baylis, president of the Muslim Jewish Forum, cited an iath from the fifth sura of the Quran, Sura Maidan, which translates to “The Table Spread.” She referred to the sura’s 48th verse, which discusses how God could have created one world and one faith, but didn’t. The reason is because God wants to test us.
“It talks about interfaith unity and harmony,” Baylis said.
It was that spirit that Baylis walked along with Muslims, as well as with Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, among others. So while the light from the sun was bright, one could feel even strong vibes from the light that emanated from a diverse crowd on a purposeful walk. Mission accomplished as far as having a successful turnout. But the long-term mission of building bridges among diverse groups continues.