2016-04-13 / Voice at the Shore

ADL’s Sandmel speaks locally on interfaith dialogue

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Rabbi David Sandmel is the director of interfaith affairs for the national Anti- Defamation League. Rabbi David Sandmel is the director of interfaith affairs for the national Anti- Defamation League. Interfaith dialogue works, according to Rabbi David Sandmel. Sandmel, the director of interfaith affairs for the New York City office of the Anti- Defamation League, spoke to a group of roughly 30 Jewish community members on March 30 at the Northfield home of Doug Stanger, chairman of the Philadelphia region ADL’s executive committee.

More than half a century of dialogue has completely transformed the relationship between the Jewish community and the Catholic church, he noted. “Pope Francis has said that to deny Israel the right to exist is antisemitic.”

This represents a huge change in attitude since the relationship between Jews and Catholics in the World War II era, he said.

Since 9-11, interfaith dialogue has once again become a priority for the Jewish community. “Many Jews woke up that day and realized, ‘Oh my goodness, there are Muslims in our community!’” said Sandmel.

Around that same time, churches were becoming increasingly anti-Israel in response to their concern over the plight of Palestinian refugees. That anti-Israel sentiment has continued to build, such that divestment from Israel is now an agenda item at major gatherings of the various Christian denominations. While older people at these gatherings like Israel, they are affected by the concerns of their younger members, who tend to sympathize with the Palestinians. “Divestment seems like a pretty benign strategy to these churches,” Sandmel explained.

In response, ADL is attempting to talk one-on-one with delegates who will be attending conventions of Christian groups meeting this summer. Learning to talk to these people about Israel in a way that they will listen has been a learning process. With liberal Protestants, for example, “Any message that does not acknowledge Palestinians and their rights doesn’t get through,” he said.

When it comes to dialogue with the Muslim community, said Sandmel, Jews and Muslims actually share many areas of commonality. “Jews and Muslims are both minorities here in the U.S. This gives us a natural affinity.”

In fact, he noted, the Muslim community sees the Jewish community as a model for how to organize and is emulating us.

The big challenge, of course, is talking about Israel, he said. “How do we talk with them in a way that can allow for disagreements,” without descending into Islamophobia or virulent anti-Israel rhetoric? According to Sandmel, this kind of civil, formal conversation between Jews and Muslims on Israel has yet to happen.

“We need to learn to talk to each other about these issues,” he stressed. .

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