At 8 o’clock on the evening of March 30, a group walked out of the sanctuary of Temple Israel synagogue in Minneapolis in a truly wonderful moment.
The people who left the front row of pews were all Muslims, and were led to a nearby room by a Rabbi so they could say their prayers.
This was partway through an extraordinary evening that brought together Jews, Muslims, Christians, the Minneapolis Police Chief, Judges, and a sanctuary filled with people who want to make clear that Minneapolis – and our country – are better than hate and divisiveness.
One of the speakers was former US Attorney Andy Luger, who gave a very moving speech about the work that his office did to protect religious rights.
And then a former Neo-Nazi walked to the front of the sanctuary. He was Christian Picciolini, co-founder of Life After Hate, an organization that helps others who have been in hate or extremist groups come back to a better life. Picciolini walked us through his life – an alienated kid, attracted to a simple narrative that blamed others for what was missing in his life. He talked about the hate seeds he helped plant and how having a child helped him begin to turn away from hate. Now he helps others around the country leave hate behind.
I won’t be able to repeat his mesmerizing story…he has a book…but I do remember his last lines:
“Go out tomorrow and find someone who you think doesn’t deserve compassion and give it to them. Because that is probably the person who needs it most.”
As an extra bonus for the night, my friend Denise Hertz headed down the aisle and handed me a check for the North High Economics Club, the group of kids trying to raise enough to go to visit Wall Street. Then her friend next to her wrote one, too.
This is who we are. DO NOT GIVE IN TO CYNICISM. That evening showed that once again! These are very difficult times with some rotten examples being set, but nothing prevents moments like this when we see we are decent people, with more in common than not, who in the end are about finding ways to make peace.
So my resolution is to do as he said: Find the person who seems to deserve compassion the least and give it to them. Because they probably need it the most. And remind yourself that behind so much bad news, we are a good people who can and will do better.
Last week, The Minneapolis Foundation launched its first Faith in Each Other Fund to support Jewish community-wide security needs. A second fund to support the Muslim community will launch this spring. Learn more and donate here.