Philadelphia cartoonist Signe Wilkinson rarely adds words to accompany her poignant artistry. But on March 17, 2019, when the below image was published in The Inquirer, she added her voice:
“After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last fall, I drew the initial version of this cartoon but for timing reasons it never ran. I’m sorry but not shocked for the opportunity to redraw it now after the unGodly carnage at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. There aren’t enough armed guards to protect every church, synagogue, mosque, ashram and temple around the world. It might be time for God’s children to figure out a way to get along.”
And then tragically, on Easter Sunday, another unthinkable atrocity occurred, targeting innocent people in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. I felt the tremors of this attack — 9,000 miles away, in the safety of my home — on the second day of Passover.
Each year since I was a child, the recounting of the Passover story has been a source of hope — when we rededicate ourselves to eradicating enslavement, oppression, and inhumanity so that the forces of justice and freedom will prevail. It is this mandate, embedded in my genetic makeup, which opens my heart to the dignity and humanity of each soul — it compels me to believe that we can indeed build the beloved communities that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of.
This past year, Interfaith Philadelphia has engaged in “A Year of Civil Conversations,” offering witness to thousands of people in this region seeking ways to cross thresholds, build bridges of understanding, link arms, and learn to converse authentically and respectfully across differences. Interfaith Philadelphia has supported interfaith dialogue in the greater Philadelphia region for 15 years, inviting Philadelphians to dare to understand one another.
Over the last several years, it has become increasingly easy to retreat into our ideological corners, allowing the loudest and often most divisive voices to dominate public conversations, which go on to shape our policy and our culture. Through this year, we wanted to live out the call of journalist Krista Tippett to “speak together differently, in order to live together differently.”
More than 400 individuals were trained to facilitate conversations, and over 1,000 people came to public events to hear those conversations modeled. People came to be stretched and to hear from those whose life experiences differed from theirs, and they took what they learned back to their homes, workplaces, and faith communities. And yet the inevitable question comes back to haunt us: Is this work enough, and can we work quickly enough?
A recent story offers wisdom from the 5-year-old son of Rev. Nicole Diroff, our associate director. Nicole and her family have a vibrant church home at Tabernacle United Church, and their son Elliott attends a Jewish preschool in their Philadelphia neighborhood. On the Monday after the Pittsburgh shooting, Elliott wondered why there was a policeman at the door of his synagogue school. That evening, when Nicole had the sad task of any parent who has to explain why someone would shoot people in their house of worship, she cushioned the blow by explaining that that is the work that she does with Interfaith Philadelphia — to prevent this sort of hatred from growing.
Elliott thought for a moment and said, “I guess you just weren’t able to work fast enough.”
Yes, “it’s time for God’s children to figure out a way to get along. …” And we do know how to do this.
The question is: Do we have the courage to harness our greatest resources, overcome the forces of despair, invest in what is possible, and link arms to protect one another?
Abby Stamelman Hocky is the executive director of Interfaith Philadelphia
Editor’s note: WHYY was one of the partners for The Year of Civil Conversations.