A seasoned clergyman’s reflections about India, Hinduism, and religion in general:

“Don’t touch, you’ll get burned.”

One time or another, almost every child has been admonished with that phrase. As a youngster grows older, they acquire instinctive ways to measure how hot something is and where you can eventually touch without getting scalded.

It’s become tellingly obvious that engaging with different religions tends to be off-limits to one’s own religion. Yes… there are the yearly token-immaculate ecumenical gatherings, or a guest appearance at someone’s seder, christening, or wedding… but how many make an “educational pilgrimage” to understand another religion’s sense of awe and respect for its core belief system?

Descriptions of religions in terms of their similarities and differences are prevalent on the internet and have been readily available at libraries. The religion I have faithfully followed my entire life contributed to a firm understanding and deep appreciation of Judaism: from an observant home to an Orthodox elementary, Orthodox junior high, Orthodox high school and then on to Yeshiva University for a Masters in Psychiatric Social Work (on a clergy track).

For almost half a century, I have been a practicing clergyman for the faith that I embrace, believe in, live, and love.

Personally, I was fascinated by why, where, and how other religions worship and began at a relatively young age studying other Abrahamic religions.

During earlier decades, the rabbi who served with my clergy father taught and served as a role model to me. Decades later, he eventually became the rabbi I also blessedly served with in Baltimore, Maryland. This rabbi was part of a very select ecumenical mission to the Vatican regarding the papal declaration on the relations of the church to non-Christian religions, known as Nostra Aetate. Rabbi Joel Zaiman served as the Chair of the National Council of Synagogues when he attended the Vatican II Conference with Pope John Paul II. He later became a founder of a Baltimore based Institute that engages scholars of varying religious backgrounds.

This scholar of scholars has taught and lived his Judaism by its holy book, the Torah, and further  carried out its loftiest ideals through bridging repaired roadways of mutual respect and understanding.

Together with my late precious father, his selfless ecumenical choices influenced me the year before my bar mitzvah (51 years ago!) when Rabbi Zaiman went to Rome. At the same time, I was hearing my father’s stories as a Jewish Marine who sang for dying Christian soldiers or at their funerals on Iwo Jima: ranging from the Lord’s Prayer to Ave Maria when requested, as he would comfort his interfaith brethren. I am also indebted to my colleague Dr. Rabbi Moshe Shualy’s unflinching guidance and vast wisdom about Hinduism and Buddhism.

Within just the past few years I have been privileged to:

  • Sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Sing for the United Nations (NB: I will be honored to sing for another UN-sponsored international event this coming Sunday night)
  • Sing at the Capitol Rotunda for the National Holocaust Day Observance
  • Sing at Arlington National Cemetery twice with the Marine Band
  • Sing with our synagogue choir at the National Basilica of the Assumption
  • Present at Windsor Castle in Great Britain
  • Visit close to 40 historic Indian Hindu Temples, several ancient Indian Mosques, and a revered Indian Sikh temple
  • Perform several times- and this year in particular- for Martin Luther King Day, at an historic Baptist Church in Baltimore
  • Sleep overnight at a Native American Holy site in Central New York (and with awe-filled reactions became inducted as a member of their society)
  • Have been recently serving as co-founder of a think tank to address looming societal issues
  • Sing and speak at a global conference in San Diego that focused on human trafficking last year
  • Recently dedicate the Baltimore Police Headquarters’ trauma-sensitive interview spaces
  • Raise $1,700,000 through concerts, along with area colleagues to assist funding (through Meir Panim) the largest food commissary in the Middle East, located in Israel, that feeds 30,000 Arab and Jewish Israeli children per day
  • Attend a groundbreaking tour (opening officially the end of this year) of the awe-inspiring Museum of the Bible in Washington DC with the newest generation in our family: grandson Abner Judah

 

…the list can continue, but I don’t want to lose you! Back to “Don’t Touch, You’ll Get Burned:

My old and unknown new friends on social media: sometimes you have to get burned a few times to awaken yourself to reach out to shake the hand of someone different from yours. You have to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk, despite possible rejection.

Our month-long trip to India has now concluded. We stayed at a total of 10 hotels, flew a total of 8 flights (domestic and international), ate as strict vegetarians, and only ingested bottled water.

Before leaving we were given inoculations and pills for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Diphtheria, and Malaria pills (for yet another week).

Last night, my wife and I both awakened in the middle of the night (or was it day?). Independently each of us thought: “why is our hotel room floor carpeted?” Neither one of us had yet fully realized that we were actually home again!

Today as we awoke, our eldest son turned 39 (February 28th). As of February 29th (non-existent this year), Janice and I will have been married 41 glorious years (or is it that we’ve been kept young at only 10 observed anniversaries?).


Destination Peace will continue to be the path for the rest of our lives. Inspired by our forefathers, teachers, and trailblazers; by our foremothers, professors, and pioneers.

If you believe that we were created by, in, and because of love, then let please also choose to live in the highest state of all love: the love for all.

Whatever your belief in God is, or is not; whether or not you embrace your faith; whether it was chosen by or handed down to you; remember that a poor child anywhere in the world needs to eat. How we act must always take precedence over what we say about what we may have planned to do.


If you have read through the multitude of blogs regarding our India experience, I thank you on behalf of Destination Peace.

This “last word” of our #IndiaTrip blog, appropriately, will conclude with Dr. Suresh Subramani’s favorite words to live by:

“Man becomes great exactly in the degree to which he works for the welfare of his fellow men.” – Gandhi

burn-1
Final voyage together on the Ganges River: Ramesh, Manny, Suresh, Janice, Feroza, and photographer SC Sekhar.

 

 

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