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Op-Ed

Work Toward Interfaith Harmony

Lawrence J. Miller, Palm Beach Regional Chair
Mark D. Medin, Florida Regional Director

This article originally appeared in Palm Beach Daily News on September 20, 2004

Recently, an ad appeared in the Palm Beach Daily News that was a cause for concern among many in our community. On the surface, the weekly choice of Scripture submitted by the Palm Beach Prayer Team may have seemed no different from other selections that have been previously published.

Yet, the choice of material, from the first chapter of Paul's Letter to Titus, was pregnant with history. This selection was one of a number that was and continues to be used to project a negative image of Jews and Judaism. Throughout history, incitement, oppression and persecution against the Jews was often fomented by scriptural passages, taken out of context, or interpreted in ways that provoked hatred toward the Jewish community.

While the Palm Beach Prayer Team may have been unfamiliar with the use and misuse of this particular passage of Scripture, Jewish and non-Jewish readers registered immediate and visceral reactions to the passage — with good reason, as the flames of anti-Semitism can be fanned at any moment or in any place, even in Palm Beach.

Once the initial shock and outrage abated, the important work of dialogue began. We, of the Anti-Defamation League, were heartened by the response of the Palm Beach Prayer Team, which after learning about and understanding our deep concern over this Scripture, immediately published an open letter of apology in the next edition of the Palm Beach Daily News.

We also welcome and commend the response of the publisher of the Palm Beach Daily News for her immediate editorial apologizing to the readers for having run an ad "that conveyed an anti-Semitic message." The willingness of an institution, such as a leading community newspaper, to recognize a mistake and apologize to its readers serves as an example of the high moral standard to which we hope all media outlets aspire. We applaud the Palm Beach Daily News for its steadfast commitment to support a hate-free society in Palm Beach, one that embraces diversity and tolerance for all of its citizens.

Freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech are two of the founding principles of our country. Indeed, among the world's nations, America is a beacon for its unwavering support of these principles. From the outset, we supported the Palm Beach Prayer Team's right to express its religious vision and zeal. Yet, these rights also come with responsibility — to respect the beliefs and integrity of others. The strength of our community can be measured by the way we demonstrate a respect for our differences, untainted by prejudices and biases.

In 1913, when the United States was still reeling from the effects of our country's own divisiveness, and a world at war, the Anti-Defamation League was established "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens alike." Our goal has always been to build communities where people of different races, religions and ethnicities live together, work together and prosper together through a mutual understanding and respect of their differences and similarities.

The community of Palm Beach is no stranger to the fruitful results of interfaith dialogue produced by our work, and the work of others such as the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Now is no time to rest in our effort to build even stronger bridges toward fostering interfaith and intergroup harmony.

It is imperative for all people to stand together and to unconditionally speak out against all forms of bigotry, racism and prejudice. Through open and ongoing communication, mutual respect, in-depth understanding of other faiths and interfaith education, we can all work together to create fertile ground to ensure that the sensitivities and beliefs of all are respected.

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The willingness of an institution, such as a leading community newspaper, to recognize a mistake and apologize to its readers serves as an example of the high moral standard to which we hope all media outlets aspire.

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