9/11 Unity Walk a celebration of D.C.’s religious diversity and tolerance


WASHINGTON, DC - September 11: Kyuyeon Min, right, covers her head as she visits the National Gurdwara: Sikh Temple during the Seventh Annual 9/11 Unity Walk on Sunday September 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. Participants were able to visit several worship venues representing different religions. (Photo by Matt McClain/For The Washington Post) (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
September 5, 2012

Bruce Lustig is Senior Rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation and a contributor to The Washington Post's local faith leader network.

I pray with my feet. For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.

These words of Abraham Joshua Heschel reflect the sentiments of many who express their faith through action. It is not our mere words that will bring the vision of a better world; rather such a world will be the result of our actions.

The Jewish concept of “tikkun olam” means “ repairing the world.”  Serving those in need and comforting those who are suffering is at the heart of not only the Jewish faith but all faiths. It is our call as human beings. One of the ways Washington Hebrew Congregation has sought to answer that call is through interfaith and service work.

So it is appropriate that on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, men and women, young and old of all faiths, will come to pray with their feet as they join in the 9/11 Unity Walk. The Unity Walk  is an interfaith event that opens at Washington Hebrew Congregation  for the eighth year. It began out of concern about the rise of religious intolerance after Sept, 11, 2001, and has grown into an experience that celebrates religious diversity and fosters connection, friendship, community. 

At the Unity Walk, all the houses of worship — church, temple, synagogue and mosque — along Embassy Row open their doors to visitors. As we walk together from house to house, people of different faiths talk and learn side-by-side. Faith practices are shared, often at a host community of a different faith. For example, we at Washington Hebrew Congregation have invited our Muslim brothers and sisters to pray in our space; a  symbolic Muslim call to prayer often opens the program for the Walk. At the Mosque, we have heard the Jewish shofar and a Hindu horn sounded and the voices of Christian gospel singers.  People of faith who believe we are all part of one human family join together as an example of the world we can create, one of mutual respect and tolerance.

Washington Hebrew Congregation was among the first to stand up and challenge the injustice and bigotry that followed the tragedy of 9/11. The intervening years have seen religious intolerance and bigotry increase from many directions. With the tragic Oak Creek shootings in the Sikh Community, the burning of a Mosque in Joplin, Mo., and the terrorizing of Jewish children at camp, to name just a few recent and publicized examples of intolerance and hate, there is much healing to be done. The Unity Walk provides an opportunity to illuminate what had formerly been mysterious about people of other faiths, touching the lives of those who participate and sending a message of hospitality and tolerance to the world.

This year, the Unity Walk is launching an expanded InterfaithYouth Service initiative. During the Walk, youth speakers will talk about their mutual call to service, working side by side while learning about one another’s faiths. I am looking forward to hearing their stories. There will also be several service projects hosted by the Walk at our synagogue that day, including a shoe drive and packaging food for the homeless.

 So, we ask, when will the darkness of hate and indifference end?  Darkness is when we can’t see that those around us are our brothers and sisters. Good works are a light that dispels that darkness. I am proud to host the 9/11 Unity Walk because it is one way in which we can “pray with our feet,” shining a light on each other as people who believe in the common value of all human beings and promoting the concept of service as a way to heal the world. 

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