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The value of differences

Finding Common Ground


A group of people stood outside of a building. Beautiful light shone through the windows of the building. One man remarked, “What beautiful blue light!”

“What do you mean?” asked the girl standing next to him. “Surely you can see that the light is purple.” She turned to the woman next to her and asked, “You see purple too, right?”

“You’re both crazy,” said the woman. “The light is green.” They argued for a few minutes and finally decided the only way to know the true color of the light was to enter the building. When they went inside they discovered that the light was white, and they were viewing it through different colored panes of glass.

Our understandings of the world, including our faith traditions, are like white light shining through different colored panes of glass. There are universal truths that filter through different viewpoints. When I moved to the area, I was thrilled to discover the Richardson Interfaith Alliance. One thing I’ve noticed in my interfaith work is that most faith traditions strive to actualize the same universal truths. Examples of these truths would include extending compassion to the vulnerable or acknowledging that we are part of something greater than ourselves. The realization that we are more alike than we are different is a foundation for respect and collaboration. If we continue with the light metaphor, this is the moment when we realize that the light shining through the windows is actually white. It’s the same light for all of us.

Additionally, when I work with people of different beliefs I expand my own thoughts. Interfaith work helps me be more flexible in my thinking. It prevents me from objectifying those with whom I disagree. Perhaps I never thought that purple and green were great colors, but when I meet someone who loves those colors I find that I should walk around the building from time to time and see the light filtered through their panes of glass. Our diversity is a reflection of God’s love of diversity. Every Friday night my congregation sings Psalm 92 to greet the Sabbath. “Ma gadlu ma’asekha—how vast are Your works.” God made different kinds of people and each of us is unique. A natural way to honor the Creator is to appreciate God’s diverse works and admire one another’s differences.

Also, although perhaps this is counterintuitive, a benefit of interacting with those who hold different religious beliefs is that it helps me clarify and fortify my own spirituality. The theologies taught to me as a child only became my own when I was challenged to contemplate whether I truly believed them. The examination of another person’s faith helps me understand my own beliefs better. I may see the beautiful green or purple light of another religion, and while I appreciate it, I end up confirming that my favorite color is still blue.

Richardson is rich in diversity. I’ve met people from all over the world who celebrate their faiths differently. My friendships with them help me appreciate our similarities, acknowledge the value of our differences and help me affirm my own beliefs. It’s a blessing to live in a community where there are many opportunities to have interfaith experiences. I welcome everyone to visit not only Beth Torah, but the different houses of worship in our city.

Elana Zelony is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah. She is also the chair of the Richardson Interfaith Alliance Steering Committee and the first woman to lead a Conservative congregation in the state of Texas.

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