By Alice Ngai-Tsang
It all started with the horrific massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, SC, on the evening of June 17, 2015. After the mass shooting, Temple Beth-El’s Senior Rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman packed up and went to offer their support. A relationship developed between the rabbis and the siblings of Myra Thompson, who was killed while teaching her first Bible study class. The heartfelt visit resulted in the reciprocated visit of the siblings to Temple Beth-El of Great Neck a few months later. Their extraordinary acts of spirituality and forgiveness inspired and uplifted the world around them and had a profound effect.
The dream of sharing the stories and spreading the idea of forgiveness materialized in the birth of the Interfaith Forgiveness Conference at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck on Sunday, Nov. 13. Panelists Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi from Israel; Mufti Mohammed Farhan, PhD, of the Islamic Center of Long Island; Reverend Dr. Patrick G. Duggan of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead; and Commissioner Kathy Lee from the Buddhist faith, along with families and victims Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo; Blondelle Coakley Gadsden, sister of Myra Thompson; and Farangiss Sedaghatpour, a victim of betrayal and rejection, joined the speakers to express their forgiveness experiences.
After small group break-out sessions, guests gathered in the sanctuary where music, singing and thankful prayers filled the air of Temple Beth-El. The moderator, Robert Silverman from Global Jewish Advocacy (AJC), skillfully directed the questions and opened the forum for sharing and discussion.
Rabbi Riskin spoke of the remorse of the wrongdoer and how one is “obligated to forgive in the face of true remorse.” Mufti Farhan recited verses from the Quran, including grace of forgiveness and how it was every Muslim’s duty to love every other living soul. Reverend Duggan focused on the healing power that exists within the spiritual practice of forgiveness.
A short video from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Essence of the Bodhi Mind, emphasized that “Only love can eliminate hostility. With compassion and empathy in our hearts, we will dissolve resentment and hatred naturally. It is love.” She then quoted an old Chinese saying, “Engrave other’s grace on the stone and keep it in our hearts. Write other’s hatred on the sand, and let it be gone with the wind.”
At the end, Master Yen shared her famous three Nos: “There is no one in the world that I don’t love; there is no one in the world that I don’t trust; there is no one in the world that I don’t forgive.”
Music director Dr. Nigel W. Gretton led Cantor Vladimir Lapin and the choir in many beautiful songs. Soloist Remy Anton Martin revealed his vocal talent and brought tears to many panelists and audience members. The conference ended with everyone singing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
In closing, Lori Beth Schwartz, from the organizing committee, said, “This event illustrates that looking deeply into one guiding principle from the perspective of many different traditions will lead us closer to the truth. I feel honored to have played a role in bringing our community together in this healthy and healing manor.”
Read also “The Art of Forgiveness.”