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From the beginning of human history down to this time the world of humanity has not enjoyed a day of absolute rest and relaxation from conflict and strife. Most of the wars have been caused by religious prejudice, fanaticism and sectarian hatred. Religionists have anathematized religionists, each considering the other as deprived of the mercy of God, abiding in gross darkness and the children of Satan. For example, the Christians and Muslims considered the Jews satanic and the enemies of God. Therefore, they cursed and persecuted them. Great numbers of Jews were killed, their houses burned and pillaged, their children carried into captivity.
One of the world’s predominant prejudices, anti-Semitism, has spread like a virulent disease for many centuries. To take action and break the stereotypes into which Jews have been forced, I offer my personal experiences.
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Many, many people of Jewish background have profoundly influenced and affected me, but for the sake of brevity I’ll tell you about three.
One, a retired pharmaceutical sales representative who had worked in Africa, was raised in a Jewish family and became a Baha’i. I had heard him speak several times at various gatherings in the United States after his retirement. He was an elegant, articulate, sensitive man, who wore his heart on his sleeve, easily became emotional and, being modest, tried hard to hide this sensitivity. As he spoke, his love of learning became apparent and his devotional attitude revealed a deep, wondrous faith. Benjamin Levy was his name.
I once invited him to give a few talks at my university. He traveled hundreds of miles at his own expense to come and help me. He stayed at my house, showed intense interest in me and my friends, cooked dinners for us, shared prayers and told stories. This beautiful, bright, scholarly and giving man quickly became my new ideal father – since I grew up without one. His humility, passionate devotion to God, exemplary family life, unparalleled dedication to serving others, devotion to honest scholarship, complete lack of pretense and great kindness showed me some of the most brilliant gems in the Jewish culture and character.
This brings me to two of my closest friends, both of them raised in the Jewish faith and both of whom became Baha’is. I won’t mention their names, because my praise might embarrass them. It is hard to speak of them because my emotional attachment is so deep. Perhaps it’s enough to say that through them, I have understood the greatness to which sweet, kind, and pure souls can aspire. They are shining stars in the spiritual heavens of guidance, great souls, true lights to all who know them, and towers of strength to those who need them. When I get in trouble, I think of them, and they see me through.
In our discussions, my friends and I often return to the deficient religious education of my childhood and what I’ve learned since then as a Baha’i. I’ve learned, primarily, that religion is not a static, unchanging thing – that instead, religion is progressive. It changes over time with the advent of new messengers and new social conditions. It grows and matures, just like people do.
Different times require different solutions, as Abdu’l-Baha pointed out in an address he gave in Boston in 1912:
Ethical precedents and principles cannot be applied to the needs of the modern world. Thoughts and theories of past ages are fruitless now. Thrones and governments are crumbling and falling. All conditions and requisites of the past unfitted and inadequate for the present time are undergoing radical reform. It is evident, therefore, that counterfeit and spurious religious teaching, antiquated forms of belief and ancestral imitations which are at variance with the foundations of divine reality must also pass away and be reformed. They must be abandoned and new conditions be recognized. The morals of humanity must undergo change. New remedies and solutions for human problems must be adopted. Human intellects themselves must change and be subject to the universal reformation. Just as the thoughts and hypotheses of past ages are fruitless today, likewise dogmas and codes of human invention are obsolete and barren of product in religion. Nay, it is true that they are the cause of enmity and conducive to strife in the world of humanity; war and bloodshed proceed from them, and the oneness of mankind finds no recognition in their observance. Therefore, it is our duty in this radiant century to investigate the essentials of divine religion, seek the realities underlying the oneness of the world of humanity and discover the source of fellowship and agreement which will unite mankind in the heavenly bond of love. This unity is the radiance of eternity, the divine spirituality, the effulgence of God and the bounty of the Kingdom.
Like the rest of humanity, Jews have the daily duty of refining their character. Primarily, though, the Jewish people as a whole have the same collective task this new age has granted us all: the unification of the planet and its people.
This confers on everyone the spiritual obligation to consider the signs of the times, ponder carefully their meaning, and to look for the source of change in this magnificent age, as Abdu’l-Baha put it in the talk he gave in Maine:
When the light of Baha’u’llah dawned from the East, He proclaimed the promise of the oneness of humanity. He addressed all mankind, saying, “Ye are all the fruits of one tree. There are not two trees: one a tree of divine mercy, the other the tree of Satan.” Again He said, “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.” This was His announcement; this was His promise of the oneness of the world of humanity. Anathema and execration were utterly abrogated. He said, “It is not becoming in man to curse another; it is not befitting that man should attribute darkness to another; it is not meet that one human being should consider another human being as bad; nay, rather, all mankind are the servants of one God; God is the Father of all; there is not a single exception to that law. There are no people of Satan; all belong to the Merciful. There is no darkness; all is light. All are the servants of God, and man must love humanity from his heart.
When we achieve this state of maturity, love, and grace, the victory we all await will come.