Published: November 6, 2015
On Tuesday, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky gave a Jewish Studies lecture, called “Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Relations in America,” in the Pearn Auditorium of Brennan Hall. The Rabbi, Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies from The Jewish Theological Seminary, traveled from New York City to share his experiences, stories and beliefs about the Jewish and Muslim people in our country.
Visotzky described the relationship between people of Jewish and Catholic faith as generally good, however, there is a greater issue between the Jewish and Muslims. When World War II was brewing, he expressed that the European center of Judaism was never going to be the same. In 1956 there was the first Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
It is important to note that on September 11, 2001, everything changed. It was feared that Muslims would be demonized in America, and in many ways, they were – and still are. Muslims are friendly and hospitable, but Rabbi Visotzky understands the stereotype and common fear of Muslims that many of us have.
“We need to stand up and do something about that person with a firearm who wreaks havoc on the community,” he said.
The rabbi placed high importance on interfaith dialogue. He participated greatly in Jewish-Muslim dialogue as well as Jewish-Christian dialogue. He, along with other rabbis, aired a 10-part television series on the book of Genesis. In this series, people were able to see Jewish, Muslims and Christians talk together – something rare and unknown.
“Dialogue and moving beyond dialogue is what I believe God wants us to do,” he said.
Visotzky is a distinguished and well-known rabbi, a Renaissance man and respected professor. He taught about rabbis and their work at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, which is where he met Pope Benedict, whom he met at a later date in the U.S. He also met Pope Francis twice. Neither Muslims nor Jews have a pope, but instead Jews have a Chief Rabbi, whom Visotzky also met. He met King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia and Muhammad Morsi, the head of Egypt. The rabbi even sat next to Barack Obama at a holiday dinner. He described Obama as “the consonant host.” Visotzky is even invited to the annual White House Hanukah party.
There are two things that Visotzky has been involved in that show how Jewish-Muslim relations have been regularized. He is on a United Nations committee for genocide prevention on hate speech toward Muslims. He also invites Jews and Muslims to work together – in fact, once a year they work together in a New York City soup kitchen. This gives them the opportunity to work together, share stories and make connections while serving a better cause. In this example, no one considers it odd that Jews, Christians and Muslims are working together.
“That’s the way it should be,” he said.
The main message Visotzky gave in his lecture is that he is working toward religious leaders being joined together in order to do good work such as ending extreme hunger and poverty. Visotzky explained that people are blinded, and we need to become aware of this prevalent issue in our society. We can do so if we get a team to work together. Visotzky would like to make a lot of changes.
“We must begin with common ground and put aside politics and differences,” he said. “We must make friends, make alliances and bring good news – and lots of it.”
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