For the past few years, The Toronto Heschel School grade 8 students have been involved in an interfaith program with the As-Sadiq Islamic School in Vaughan. Each year, the students travel to each other’s schools to discuss issues of diversity, learn about Jewish and Islamic traditions, and break bread together. Last week, five members of the As-Sadiq school leadership including Principal Marcello D’Agostino, Director, Religious Affairs Shaykh Vinay Khetia, and Grade 8 Student Council President Aliza, paid a visit to the school to personally offer their condolences to our community for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. They brought with them a book of condolences signed by children in their school from Eary Years to grade 8. Here are some of the messages: “We hope your community will recover from this loss, although these individuals shall not be forgotten” – Muhammed Z; “I am so sorry for your loss. We accept everyone and we are a family” – Zahra; “Sorry for your loss and never give up in what you believe in,” – “Our hearts and thoughts are with you, and we will pray for you and your people.” – Aliya J.
This week we study parshat Vayishlach, in which Ya’akov seeks to make peace with his brother Esav. From this parshah we learn the middah, “seek to resolve conflicts.” The past few weeks have been a time of deep sadness for the Jewish community. The conflict created in our hearts by the shooting in Pittsburgh is not one that can easily be resolved. It is not a conflict only with a single person, but with a way of thinking, a terrible prejudice. How can we resolve ourselves to this? When we met with visitors from As Sadiq we talked about the Pittsburgh shooting, as well as the Quebec City mosque shooting last year. How does one recover? Do we try to go on as normal? I don’t believe we do. We do not live in a normal time. Prejudice and hatred cannot be accepted as normal. I suppose what we do, I told our visitors, is exactly what you are doing now. We build relationships, we connect, we fight hatred and prejudice with understanding and friendship. Tikkun olam – repair of the world — cannot always happen directly. Sometimes we cannot bring ourselves to reconcile with someone who has hurt us. My teacher, Rachael Turkienicz taught me that in these cases, our job is to do some act that repairs the world in some other way. I feel that the relationship we have built with As Sadiq school is this kind of tikkun. We truly value the connection we have built, and will seek to strengthen it further. To cite the letter sent to us by the Principal of As Sadiq, “Let us continue to build a society in which all citizens of the world can live in peace and harmony, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion.”