“We must not stand idle while our fellows bleed”

This was the statement, made by Jewish Syrian-activist Shlomo Bolts, that laid at the center of SETF’s Wednesday, July 31 interfaith event at the United Methodist Building in Washington D.C. This event, which was intended to engage communities of the major Abrahamic faiths with the humanitarian crises taking place in Syria, was a great success, with three enlightening speakers and an engaged audience made up of concerned members of the public and professionals of relevant background.

Mr. Bolt’s question was challenging for both the audience and the other panelists, struggling to decide where our obligations begin and end in a time of grotesque violent conflict. Though policy positions differed, as well as levels of commitments to engaging with the armed opposition, all were in agreement that both the United States and the faith community must do more.

Reverend Margaret Rose was the first speaker, and provided the audience with a brief primer of the theological underpinnings of social justice work within Christianity. According to the Reverend’s reading, scripture tells Christians that God loves the world, and as a result, humans must be caretakers of both the planet and each other.

Imam Johari built upon the Reverend’s comments, noting that in all the Abrahamic faiths, good values are only one side of one’s religious obligations, the other being good works. Imam Johari also implored the crowd to not succumb to a feeling of powerlessness, that even though the need for humanitarian aid in Syria and around the world can seem bottomless, every action and penny helps someone somewhere.

Shlomo Bolts spoke last, reading from the Torah, and citing his view of social obligation within the Jewish faith as tied to the religious instruction, “you must not stand idle while your fellow bleeds.” In Shlomo’s view, this instruction asks us not only to care for the wounded or injured, but to protect them from those who would do them harm.

After each speaker shared their perspective, the floor was opened to questions, and there was a spirited debate about US policy and how best to marshal the efforts of religious communities. SETF was delighted that this event could start such a dynamic conversation, and we hope it is only the beginning of a long and meaningful dialogue. This meeting of the minds was only possible because of the thoughtfulness and eloquence of our three speakers, who truly made the event special.

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