The sometimes stormy relationship between inner cities and their suburbs underwent theological scrutiny Dec. 9 as a rabbi, a priest, and an imam discussed common religious themes in coping with urban problems.
They gathered at Abraham’s Table, a periodic luncheon held in the downtown Newark office of the Interfaith Dialog Center.
Starting the discussion was Rabbi Avi Friedman of the Summit Jewish Community Center. He is a native of suburban Detroit.
Friedman said the riots that erupted in that city in 1967 — weeks after similar violence racked Newark — and the subsequent “white flight” to the suburbs made a lasting impression on his life.
The rabbi said that when he arrived in New Jersey five years ago to become religious leader of his Conservative synagogue, he found himself in “very familiar territory.”
“In the 40 years since those riots, the Jewish community has struggled with its obligation to Newark. It has moved its institutions, its businesses, its families, to the suburbs,” he said. “But when in doubt about our obligations, it is always good to look back on some traditional texts. We are beginning to see that time is the best healer, and it is time to reconsider our obligation to the cities we were once part of and want to be part of again.”
Citing a text from Deuteronomy, the rabbi said, “When there is a needy person among you, do not shut your hearts. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him whatever he needs.”
The Rev. Robert Corin Morris of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit spoke of his work as executive director of the Interweave Center for Holistic Living and as a cofounder of the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace.
“I’m working with Jews, I’m working with Muslims, I’m working with Hindus, I’m working with Buddhists, I’m working with secularists, I’m working with atheists,” he said. “We have common cause in the city of humanity to bring what we can from our traditions…that make for the peace of the city.”
Imam W. Deen Shareef, leader of the Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington, said his Muslim faith dictates that a “just and equitable balance must exist between people in a community.”
“In the universe there is both a unity and a diversity,” said Shareef, also a cofounder of the Newark Interfaith Coalition. “But the balance must be kept between how we differ and how we see ourselves working together.”
Shareef tackled an audience member’s question about racism issue by paraphrasing the words of Muhammad.
“A black is not better than a white and a white is not better than a black; an Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab,” Shareef said. “Muhammad addressed an ill that was existing in the society at the time when he was delivering the message of the Koran.”
Friedman said the riots in both Newark and Detroit intensified racial stereotypes and segregated societies.
“I think enough time has passed that we are once again reaching out and trying to figure out how we can jumpstart relationships where there has been so much pain over the last 40 years,” he said. He said he hopes the alliances of blacks and Jews that were formed decades ago can be re-established and that “we can recapture the partnership and trust and friendship that existed in the late ’50s and early ’60s.”