Honoring Our Son by Working for Peace and Reconciliation
By Phyllis Schafer Rodriguez and Orlando Rodriguez
We are the parents of Gregory E. Rodriguez who was killed in the attacks on the WTC 9 years ago. Out of this tragedy we have been fortunate to be able to open up to new experiences that have enriched our lives, and have tried to use our voices to contribute to peace in a small way. But peace is not just an absence of war and violence; humanity and respect for other’s ideas, religions, customs, etc., must all be present for peace to succeed. And one of the best ways to accomplish these goals is to reach out to people who are different from us, i.e., “the other”.
Among the new experiences we have had since losing Greg has been getting to know people we might never have met otherwise. Several of them are Muslims and Muslim Americans. To our knowledge, we had never known a Muslim person before 2002. We were aware that there were Muslims living in our community in the metro New York area, but had had very limited contact. After the attacks, the decision was made by Muslim organizations to teach their neighbors the true meaning of Islam and how it relates to Judaism and Christianity. It was through these interfaith and intercultural programs and invitations that our sensitivity to the scary and difficult position of anyone looking Middle Eastern or Arab finds him or herself in today. We’ve learned stories of exile, immigration, disenfranchisement and pain. We’ve learned that we have more in common as human beings than what makes us different. We have learned the power of love through grief – by recognizing the suffering of all people, including families of the suicide pilots who use airplanes as deadly weapons.
The so-called “Mosque at Ground Zero” controversy has moved people of conscience to uphold the principles of freedom of religion and expression. NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has become a champion of the first amendment. But many public figures and ordinary people have expressed hatefulness, venom and prejudice in the media and on the internet. And they pretend to be speaking for us, family members of victims. They are so “sensitive” to our feelings that they insult others in their mission to ban the center.
Would these expressions of hate be possible if we all knew Muslims personally? We think not. If your neighbor, co-worker, doctor or school teacher were Muslim, would you be able to categorically condemn an entire group? We think not.
We feel that the old saying, “Think globally and act locally” should guide us. It can translate into our welcoming Muslims and people we might not otherwise meet to our communities. Include them in local events, worship services, activities. This is an important part of working for peace and, in the words of your group, standing on the side of love.
As a result of our article in support of Islamic Cultural Center, we have been invited to be on a panel at Congregation Kol Ami, the reform temple in White Plains, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although I, Phyllis, am a secular Jew, it means a lot to me to talk about why I support the Center and the proposed location. Orlando is a Christian. We will join Talat Hamdani, who lost her son, too, that day and is a Muslim, and Ann Schaffer, of the American Jewish Committee on the panel. We will have the opportunity to present our points of view to members of the congregation and community. We know we will learn a lot from the experience.
Visions of a Tolerant America:
Jewish, Muslim and Christian voices discuss an Islamic Center near Ground Zero
On Yom Kippur, September 18, at 3-4:30 p.m.
Congregation Kol Ami
Chapel in the Woods
252 Soundview Avenue
White Plains, NY 10606
There will be a panel presentation, group discussion and text study of the Yom Kippur reading of the Book of Jonah.
- Talat Hamdani, Orlando and Phyllis Schafer Rodriguez, bereaved parents and members of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
- Ann Schaffer, director of the Belfer Center for American Pluralism, American Jewish Committee
- Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Congregation Kol Ami.
For directions or information see website at www.nykolami.org
Sponsored by Kol Ami’s Interfaithful Committee