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My Town Is a Living Laboratory of Pluralism

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In my small town of Sharon, Mass., there is a great deal of love, a good dose of hatred, and a lot of ambivalence. It is emotionally exhausting keeping up.

In the past year, our town's different synagogues, churches and prominent mosque have come together to collect food for a food pantry on Thanksgiving, stuff backpacks for poor children on MLK Day, share music in an interfaith concert and pray for victims of gun violence. We have also had a brick thrown through a church window with anti-Semitc graffiti because of the church's pro-Zionist stance, and Rev. Pat Robertson came to town to slander the Quran as "a book of hate." And then there are people who just want to be left alone and don't want to get involved.

The late Father Bob Bullock of Our Lady of Sorrows Church of Sharon declared our town a "living laboratory." We are population of about 18,000 souls and a veritable United Nations of ethnic backgrounds and religions. And in between all of the sermons, we kayak on our town's lake and eat ice cream from the local dairy.

As a rabbi and one of the clergy who lives and works in my town, I have come to believe more than ever in a vision of pluralism. "Pluralism" means we respect diversity. But I have come to learn pluralism is a dynamic process that goes from low-level interaction to active dialogue. In borrowing a model from one of my intellectual heroes, Moses Maimonides, I make sense of my world by thinking of a "Ladder of Pluralism":

The bottom rung is that we tolerate each other because we have to. This level is critical because it makes society function.

One level higher is when we respect each other and come together when faced with adversity. This is what is cultivated in free societies where we know the rights of all depend upon defending the rights of each one.

The highest level is when we actively seek to learn from one another without the wish to change each other. We are ultimately fascinated by other people. Even if we love our particular way of life very much, we love people more. I think this level is rare in the world.

What this means for me is that while I am a Jew and a rabbi, I am a human being first. I fundamentally believe I have something to teach from my tradition, but I have even more to learn. I will defend myself and others from hate and refuse to participate in it. And I need to get to know my neighbors because we are all in this together.

This is not simple, and I am not naïve. But I have faith that underneath our diversity is unity, an interconnectedness that exists that makes us responsible for each other and transcends us. I call that unity God. That makes the highest rung of pluralism -- with all of the emotions in engenders -- a religious pursuit.

And I have a feeling my town is not so different from yours.

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