Minutes of Meeting

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Date: March 10, 2002

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall Room 101

Meeting Topic: Judeo-Christian Response to Terrorism; group discussion

Speaker: Shirley Flacks

Hosts: Eileen Moorman

PRESENT: Agnes Hannahs, Vice-Chair, Presiding; Donna Bealer, Judith Bluestein, Larry Briskin, Corinne Coleman, Steve Coleman, Jenny Esser, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Lillian Gillespie, Judie Griffith, Eugene Hannahs, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ken Rosenzweig, Barbara Siler, Juanita Wehrle-Einhorn, Robert Wehrle-Einhorn, Karen Williams, Tracy Williams, Bill Youngkin.

Agnes called the meeting to order at 7:50 PM. Eileen delivered the opening prayer which was based on Psalm 54 or Psalm 53 in some Bibles. "God is my helper. The lord sustains my life. You have rescued me." Eileen chose this psalm for the opening prayer because she hoped it would help the attendees deal with the complicated topic of the evening.

At this point, people new to the Dialogue were asked to introduce themselves. These included Dale and Barbara Siler, and Karen and Tracy Williams. Jerry Kotler then discussed his plans for the June meeting for which he will be the facilitator. The topic is "The Last Supper; the Dilemma of the Passover Seder," and he will be referring in that presentation to a recent article on the subject in Biblical Review. Jerry noted that the synoptic gospels indicate that the Last Supper was a seder, but John is not in agreement with this. Agnes discussed the program for July whose topic is, "Jewish Stereotypes in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice." Agnes helped arrange that program.

Agnes referred the attendees to an article about Gary Pacernick in the Dayton Daily News. Gary is a Professor of English at Wright State University and has recently published a book which reports on his interviews with famous Jewish poets. He recently had a booksigning at Books & Company. Lillian reported she recently visited the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. She found the exhibits to be very personal in nature, focusing on Holocaust survivors from the St. Petersburg area.

Jack announced that the new University of Dayton president, Dan Curran, has an international award for "exceptional contribution to the field of Holocaust education." Ken proposed that the new UD president be contacted about the possibility of speaking to the Dialogue. Lorraine announced that Jerry would be delivering a talk to the Yad B'Yad organization at Beth Jacob Synagogue about the history and legitimacy of Zionism.

At this point, Agnes introduced Shirley by saying that she was one of the founders of the Dialogue in the 1970’s, and she has been a fervent supporter ever since.

Shirley took over at 8:05 PM. She brought a book with her that she obtained from the Austers (members of the Dialogue who have recently moved to Florida) about the Judeo-Christian response to terror. Shirley said that she was near Ground Zero on September 11. She was visiting in New York and electioneering for her granddaughter, Elana Posner, who was running for City Council of the City of New York. Shirley’s hotel was about 2 blocks away from the World Trade Center. Just after the disaster, she was evacuated twice. Unfortunately, Elana did not win the election. As of this date, Elana’s apartment has not yet been completely cleaned up from the disaster, and she has not moved back in. Shirley never cried herself about the disaster until Dan Rather burst into tears on the Dave Letterman show. Shirley noted that tomorrow it will be exactly six months since September 11. Shirley asked two Dialogue colleagues, Rabbi Judith Bluestein and Rev. Bill Youngkin, to present respectively some Jewish and some Christian responses to terrorism. Rabbi Judith is a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton. Rev. Bill is Pastor of David's United Church of Christ.

Rabbi Judith presented some examples of terrorism in Biblical times in the form of texts from the Bible. In First Samuel 15:2-34, there is the statement, "You shall blot out the memory of Amalek." In Deuteronomy 20, there is the statement that in the process of waging war against a city, the attacking army must not destroy the fruit trees. Erika asked how we can remember the Amalakites and, at the same time, blot out their memory. She thinks remembering is the most important thing. Someone commented that blotting out the memory means to destroy them all, rather than not to remember them. Jerry suggested that the al-Qaida who are being besieged by the Americans and others in the mountains of Afghanistan may be analogous to the Amalakites. Specifically, they are so evil and dangerous, that the only appropriate policy is to kill them before they cause great damage to us.

Shirley then passed the floor to Rev. Bill who noted that the first Christian response is compassion to the victims of terrorism. The second response is anger. Some people think that anger is unchristian, but Bill stated that this is not true. Only nursing anger is bad. The third Christian response is resistance to the terrorism. Bill observed that Kerry Kennedy-Cuomo spoke at UD last Thursday night. She told of a human rights activist in Mexico whose father was a labor organizer, which inspired her to become a human-rights attorney. The human rights activist described to Ms. Kennedy-Cuomo that she was angry during confrontations which fueled her resistance. Thus anger, if directed at an appropriate target, can be beneficial. Bill stated that the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ, of which his church is a member, advocates standing up to evil. However, the Law of Leviticus states that retribution must never exceed an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, and, according to tradition, there must be no rejoicing over drowned Egyptian troops during the Exodus. The fourth Christian response is prayer. Bill observed that Martin Luther King, Jr., spent hours at his rallies helping people cleanse their hearts of violence impulses.

Erika stated that the Biblical concept of "an eye for an eye" was actually a humane response to the much harsher Code of Hammurabi. Bill agreed, saying that "an eye for an eye" was meant to control overresponse to violence. Erika cited the statement from Matthew about the necessity for Christians to forgive. She continued that Christians have been told to be forgiving, and they have not done it. Lorraine compared the American response to terrorism committed against America with the American reaction to the Israeli response to terrorism. Lorraine noted that the Israelis are in a great dilemma. They have to kill innocents in order to respond to the killing of their own innocents; it is heartbreaking. Someone said a million people have been displaced in Afghanistan as a result of the War on Terrorism; he felt this is out of proportion to the 5000 or so killed on September 11 and questioned the justice of the War. Larry passed around a sheet of excerpts from the Koran. Larry stated that the Koran is full of statements like those listed on the sheet advocating the making of war on unbelievers (jihad). Larry stated that people who read this kind of material can be easily motivated to kill. Lorraine disagreed, saying it is not fair to quote a document such as the Koran out of context. Someone stated that one might also extract many warlike statements from the Bible.

Jerry suggested we invite Muslims to visit the Dialogue to explain themselves, rather than hypothesizing what are the views of Muslims. He even suggested that it may be time for the Christian Jewish Dialogue to become a Christian-Jewish-Islamic dialogue. Felix said that there has been a pattern of Islamic terrorism to which the West has not responded. Shirley asked why we were "asleep at the switch" on September 11. Jerry commented that we were also asleep at the switch in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It often takes a tumultuous event to change public attitudes and move the nation toward a response. Another example of a nation-changing event was the Iranian hostage taking. Lillian suggested we should examine why Americans are hated so much.

Felix reported on a recent book he has read about Islam. For many centuries, Islam spread, taking over many formerly Christian countries. However, in the last two centuries, the West has become very successful and reversed this trend. Muslims think of Westerners as Crusaders, despoiling their lands. Jerry pointed out that Islam surpassed Christianity in science and culture during the Dark Ages. Felix pointed out that the division of state from religion which has become established in the Western World has never developed in the Islamic world. Erika reiterated this. Larry pointed out that Islamic countries are not tolerant of other religions and that the Koran supports this intolerance. Jerry replied that this is a narrow view of the Koran that emerges from Mohammed’s arguments with the Jews of Medina.

Larry pointed out that Islamic countries are attempting to impose sharia (Islamic law) on non-Muslims. Eileen replied that this is just an example of people in power not wanting to give it up. Shirley noted that one beneficial outcome of the War on Terrorism has been the freeing of the women of Afghanistan. Jerry said that Dennis Praeger has said that liberal leadership would not emerge in the Muslim world by itself. In comparison, Jerry observed that 40 years ago the conversations we are having in the Dialogue could not have taken place. Fortunately, new leadership emerged in the Catholic Church and many mainline Protestant groups which provided the foundations upon which Dialogue could develop. Jerry thinks that Muslims should be brought into the Dialogue. Eugene replied that the key is to finding thoughtful Muslims. Jerry said we should have Muslims of different stripes.

Shirley told the story about Jack Kelley, a Catholic priest from the University, who was a very liberal firebrand in the 1960’s. He had delivered talks about the dangers of the very conservative John Birch Society. Jack had also taken a trip to Israel. Shirley was very impressed, and she invited Jack to speak to the Hadassah chapter. At the talk, the Hadassah members were surprised and disappointed when Jack, talking about his experiences in Israel, said that the Israeli synagogues were not very clean, and the Jews were ethnocentric and insular. To try to educate Jack and make him aware of Jewish sensitivities, Shirley set up a meeting between Jack and Rabbi Russlander and the "rest is history." The consequent relationship between Jack and his new Jewish friends led in part to the formation of the Dialogue in the early 1970’s.

There was some discussion of the events in the Dayton area after September 11 which were designed to prevent hatred and discrimination developing against Muslims. Jerry mentioned the Interfaith Peace Prayer, held at the Muslim Community Center a few days after September 11, which was attended by Ken and himself, as representatives of the Dialogue. Someone reported that there was also an interfaith meeting to support Muslims at Wright State University during the same period. Juanita explained that it was a noontime service featuring the very healing remarks of Wright State University President Kim Goldenberg. Someone else reported that a Mass was held at the University of Dayton to foster understanding of Islam.

Lorraine said that there is one issue that has not been raised: the fact that terrorists think they are doing God’s work. Someone also raised the issue of whether the poverty that is rampant in the Arab World may provide a breeding ground for terrorism.

Eileen noted that the people of Afghanistan know nothing but war. In the short run, how can they turn around in order to create a peaceful and tolerant society? Karen noted that a Hammas leader stated on television that Jews were an occupying army. Erika stated that the issue of who was there first is irrelevant to settling the Israeli-Arab Conflict. Lorraine pointed out that approximately the same number of Jewish refugees were thrown out of Arab countries as Palestinians who were displaced by the Israeli War of Independence. She also noted that the Arab states have held Palestinian refugees in camps in contrast to Israel which has integrated Jewish refugees from Arab countries into its society. Eleanor pointed out that these events are very colored by the media. Donna said she has been to at least two lectures on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Jerry commented that he and Ken had beautiful copies of The Koran delivered to them after they attended the Interfaith Peace Prayer. Shirley asked if anyone has not spoken yet. John Magee said that we should look for ways to get out of the vicious cycle of violence. Lorraine replied that we cannot be passive in response to great terrorism. Ken commented that he understands the Israeli government’s aggressive response to terrorism. However, he is pained to observe that it does not seem to be working at this point. More terrorists seem to be being created by the Israeli military response to terror.

Shirley suggested appropriate responses to terrorism are becoming actively involved in the world and prayer. Jack referred the attendees to the writings of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, both of whom were assassinated. Judie noted that Martin Luther King was radical for the liberation of his people but nonviolence was his tactic. Jack advocated the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, the obligation of every person to repair the world.

The discussion of the topic for the evening concluded, and one administrative matter was discussed. Felix said that Father Bert had a proposal for the unfilled position of Secretary of the Dialogue. This proposal by Donna Bealer was that the Secretary position must be taken apart and parceled out to various people. Donna has offered to be the coordinator. Harry Koenigsberg suggested that, as in other organizations of which he is a member, the Secretary should be paid a stipend, perhaps $100 per year. Lillian said that we need to think about this issue and try to come to some decision next month.

The meeting adjourned at 9:45 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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