From 1995-1997 I was honored to serve as the president of the Port Washington Clergy Council. This interfaith organization sponsors the annual Thanksgiving Eve Service, and in general works to promote religious tolerance in our community.
I, like Rabbi Paltiel, was troubled by the recent production presented by the students of the Port Washington Christian School of the Bible Church. Pastor Thomas is correct in stating that the 39 Books which make up our Tannach, our Hebrew Scriptures, form Christianity's Old Testament. Sharing parts of our Canon however, does not mean that we share holidays. Jewish congregations in Port Washington do not put on Christmas or Easter pageants; to do so would be offensive, a mockery of what these solemn days represent to Christians. Purim is a Jewish holiday, and that a Christian congregation would present a Purim play (on a Friday Night, the Jewish Sabbath) is a matter of real concern, as was the invitation extended "to those who will be celebrating Purim at this time" to attend this production. It is disingenuous for such an invitation to be seen as anything other than an attempt at proselytizing. Such a blatant disregard for and acceptance of the variety of religious beliefs does not belong in Port Washington, or any where else for that matter.
I understand that for Christians, Jesus is the Messiah, and that, as Pastor Thomas put it in his letter of last week, "It would be wrong on our behalf not to desire to tell others of the wonderful Savior, and we do not deny that we would rejoice if others would as well." It is an important part of Pastor Thomas' mission to share his beliefs with others; what he may not understand is just how offensive Jews find his mission. Jews do not seek to convince Christians or the adherents of any other religious tradition that what they believe is incomplete or inaccurate. That there are those who seek to do so to us is an invasion of our privacy, and of our right to live and worship in peace and freedom.
I affirm each individual's right to choose for him or herself. The Israeli man whose story Pastor Thomas shared with us was free to accept Jesus as his Messiah. By doing so however, he ceased to be a Jew. This is not, as Pastor Thomas intimated, because I think Jesus was "evil" or because I am prejudiced. It is simply because no matter what an individual's background is, once he or she believes that Jesus is the Messiah and accepts all that theological tenet carries with it, that person is, by definition, a Christian.
I respect Pastor Thomas' right to believe as he does; why can he not accept my right to do the same? I don't want to debate or defend my beliefs, and this reluctance is not born out of fear. Rather it is out of respect for the fact that religious differences should be accepted and celebrated. Whether we are Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Bahai or Atheists, we should work together to bring an end to prejudice, war, hunger, sickness, homelessness and hopelessness¬ all the evils which exist in our world. But in order to work together we must first accept each other, as people of different and equal faiths. Different doesn't mean better or worse. It simply means different, and there is enough room for each and every one of us to believe, or not to believe, whatever we choose.