I would first like to thank Mayor Martin, Sandy Goldstein, Monsignor Digiovanni and my fellow clergy for your leadership in organizing this historic and important event in our city. We are truly grateful for this gathering of Many Faiths, One Community and Stamford Proud.
We affirm by coming together today confident in our faith that we are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths of others.
I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I stand here on the shoulders and with the spirit of one of the great religious leaders in our community and my mentor who served Agudath Sholom almost half a century, Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, of blessed memory.
He was a leader not only of the Jewish community but of people of all faiths and laid the foundations for a city rooted in mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. One of his favorite aphorisms based in an ancient Jewish teaching was "We are beloved in God's eyes when we are beloved in Humankind's eyes". The road to holiness emerges when we honor the Divine spark in all humanity. This idea underscores the past, present and future of Stamford.
The dreams and hopes of our ancestors live in us and we in turn are the guardian of their trust, now and for the future. We are all on a journey, links between the generations.
At the very beginning of time, God created the world with a burst of energy that gave birth to the planets, the stars and then to life. Among all of the millions of forms of life, God only created one life form in His image with the unique capacity to be his partner in creation. God endowed humanity, each of us, with the ability to choose between good and evil, harm and healing.
The world was born in darkness and chaos. God's first act was to create light and infuse morality, love and holiness in the world. As God did, so shall we.
However, humanity failed in two ways. As Rabbi Jonathan Saks explains, people strived to create worlds of freedom without order and order without freedom. These failures reflect the tragedy of humanity to this day.
Freedom without order was the world before the flood. It was time of anarchy that Thomas Hobbes describes as the war of every man against every man. This is the world today of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other places racked by lawlessness. It is a world literally and figuratively of Hamas - the Hebrew word for violence.
The other failure was in creating a world of order without freedom. This state was epitomized in the Tower of Bavel , ancient Egypt and totalitarian regimes. These were societies that achieved greatness at the cost of turning human beings into slaves. This is also an affront to human dignity.
Having seen these two failures, G-d calls on one man and one woman, Abraham and Sara and tells them - I want you to be different. I want you to restore blessing to the world. I want you to build a society based on love of God, love of your neighbor and love of the stranger. I want you to build a society of freedom and order through pursuit of justice, kindness and mercy. I want you to hear the voice of God in every human heart and show the world how to create freedom without anarchy and order without tyranny. This was and is our mission for the past 4,000 years.
As children of Abraham and Sara, God calls on us today, citizens of Stamford, to affirm and embrace our mission. I cannot think of a timelier message.
In a world of anarchy, no one is safe. In a world of tyranny, the Jews or another minority may be the first target but are not the last.
Against this backdrop, must continue to prove worthy of mending a broken world. There is no nobler and holier cause to fight for human rights, dignity, respect and equality.
We must build communities of consciousness. All of us must raise our voices to fight for all faiths to live without fear. In the city of Stamford and beyond, we must continue to work together with all faith communities to harness our united voices against all forms of racism and stand resolute in the face of evil that threatens our world.
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in a letter to the editor of the NY Times following the night of broken glass, Kristallnacht at the outset of WW 2, "There are times when the instinct of humanity makes silence impossible" yet despite the outrage few acted.
We cannot be complacent.
Dante wrote in Paradise Lost - The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality."
In the words of Rabbi Sacks, "The great challenge to religions in a global age is whether, at last, they can make space for one another, recognizing God's image in someone who is not in my image, God's voice when it speaks in someone else's language."
"Nothing has proved harder in the history of civilization than to see God, or good, or human dignity in those whose language is not mine, whose skin is a different color, whose faith is not my faith and whose truth is not my truth."
Today, we say to God, we will not tire in our mission nor grow weary.
However, as bearers of that mission, our communities of faith are called upon not only to fight the darkness but also bring the light.
Each of us is a moral agent, and that in this lays our unique dignity as human beings; We are obligated to bring heaven down to earth.
In this spirit, I want to share with you one way. It is called Discovering Your Elijah Moment. At Passover seders all over the world, we welcome Elijah. He was an ancient prophets but also is cited in the final words of the prophets in the Scripture Malachi - A time will come when I will send you Elijah the prophet and his coming with herald a time of peace for the world.
Who is Elijah?
Throughout history, Elijah appears in the most mysterious of places.
The story is told of a student of the Baal Shem Tov who felt after much preparation that he was deserving of a vision of the prophet Elijah. His master instructed him to visit a certain town and ask to be hosted at the home of a specific family. "Make sure to bring them food", the Baal Shem Tov added.
The student eagerly packed a wagon full of food and set off. Upon arriving, he was directed to an old dilapidated house, home of a poor widow with many young children. The student spent Sabbath with them and was only too happy to share his mountains of food. But Elijah never showed up.
The Baal Shem Tov instructed the student to try again the next week. As he approached the door, he heard a child's plaintive voice" But what will we eat on Shabbat?" A reassuring voice replied, "Don't worry. Just like Elijah came last week, he will come this week again!"
What does it mean to be an Elijah? The man sets out to find Elijah in some remote location only to realize that Elijah lies within. It is in that moment of recognition when he realizes that he is the one the family is waiting for and that he is the agent of kindness. He knows that his life embodies a mission beyond himself.
Being an Elijah means living life every day with an awareness of our capacity to be God's agents on earth. It is our role all the time.
I see Elijah's in our city all the time. To be an Elijah means to pay it forward at a local coffee shop. Take in your neighbor's garbage. Buy the entire batch of newspapers from the fellow on the street. Help a stranger at the supermarket with their bag. Simply make someone day through a hello and a smile. The ideas are endless and the reward is eternal.
The second message of the Baal Shem Tov story is seeing the Elijah in others. As we are called upon to believe in our own Elijah potential, we are called upon to see the Elijah potential in others.
As Rabbi Saks remarks, "The supreme religious challenge is to see God's image in one who is not in our image"
Let's stop for a moment and think.
What if we all agreed to treat everyone we meet going forward as if they were an Elijah?
We all recognize it is a challenge for us.
Whatever a person's background, race or creed - Everyone is a potential Elijah.
Elijah is the child in the classroom. Elijah is the homeless fellow on the off ramp with the sign asking for money. He is the maintenance person at your child's school. The bus driver. The banker. The receptionist at the doctor's office.
He is anyone. And he is everyone.
What would the world look like if we all treated each other with the kindness we'd offer Elijah?
It would be the start of the Messianic Age.
Once the abbot of a failing monastery went to the local rabbi for advice. He told him there wereonly five monks left in his order and that they didn't know how to save their beloved institution. "I am very sorry," the rabbi responded. "But, I have no advice for you and your fellow monks. The only thing I know is that one of you is the prophet Elijah."
Back at the monastery, the monks pondered the rabbi's cryptic advice. "Was he saying that one of us is actually Elijah? Who could it be? He must have meant Father Abbot; he has been our leader for so long. Ormaybe he meant Brother Thomas. Brother Thomas is certainly a holy man. The rabbi could not have meant Brother Elrad. He's just a crotchety old guy. And surely it is not Brother Philip. He's so passive; I barely notice him. But then again, maybe he is Elijah!"
And as the monks considered these possibilities, they began to treat each other with extraordinary respect; on the off chance that one of them might actually be Elijah. Slowly, imperceptibly, this aura of extraordinary respect permeated the atmosphere of the monastery and beyond. Now when visitors wandered through the woods, they were drawn to the monastery. They began to bring their friends to show them this special, spiritual place. Gradually, the monastery once again became a center of holiness and light, illuminating the entire town.
Kindness is holiness...the kind of holiness that illuminates our world. Elijah embodies the latent potential in all of us for impact and spiritual greatness.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy once stated that Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
Our future exists because we can imagine it...If we can imagine it, we can choose to bring it about.
We can act differently today from the way we did yesterday - in small ways individually, in very big ways collectively. Because we can change ourselves, we can change the world.
And in that capacity, to change the world, I can move from where I am now to where I would like to be ultimately. This is where hope and redemption are born.
We pledge bonds of unity within our own faith communities and without. We will fight for everyone's right to live in peace. We will not wait for moments of crisis but do our best to see the Divine in all humanity. We will spread some light in the face of darkness, goodness in the face of evil and healing in the face of hurt.
We are 375 years strong and God willing our future will be even brighter. Together, we can reveal so many more Divine sparks in our city.
Each of us is tasked with being a catalyst in making our city an even warmer, kinder and brighter place. One day at a time, one act at a time, and one life at a time - respecting the faiths of others because we are confident in our own; inviting others to join with us in building a world worthy of being a home for the divine presence.
There is not one of us here in this room, there is not one citizen of Stamford that does not have an important and unique task in that process of contributing to the justice and decency and humanity of our world. We are part of a city that we can all be proud. Together we can be a model for our state, county and the world.
God promises us a guarantee that if we embrace our mission....we will be refreshed in our task every day. As the prophet Isaiah states, "Those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on eagles wings...They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint."