The Israel-Hamas war has put more strain on interfaith relations than any event since al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when many Christians and Jews went in search of a deeper understanding of Islam. This time, Jews and their Arab and Palestinian Muslim and Christian conversation partners, indeed all of us, are finding it hard to carry on with the routine work of interfaith meetings and joint statements.
As vital as the issues are, it’s sometimes good to find whatever common ground we can, and just gather there. The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out has always stressed building up and nurturing relationships among interfaith and ecumenical leaders. On Saturday evening at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles, spearheaded by its president, Dr. Lo Sprague, and welcomed by interim cathedral dean and priest in charge the Very Rev. Anne Sawyer, the center got over 250 of us together to proclaim — again and again and again — that every child’s life is sacred.
This was our mantra after a stirring two-hour concert by the Yuval Ron Ensemble, mixing Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic selections in such a way that it occurred to me that faith’s great unifier is the pentatonic scale. The performances neared an ecstatic pitch, especially when Sufi whirling dancer Banafshch Sayyad was on stage, or clarinetist Norik Manoukian was painting a solo full of hope and yearning.
In those moments, because this is what music and dance can do, it felt as though peace is possible, and love can reign. It helped when a combined Jewish and Muslim youth choir stood and joined the ensemble. May we make it so for them. Near the end, perhaps 20 of us — as diverse an interfaith and ecumencial collective as I’ve been part of since Oct. 7 — stood in one line on the stage, identified ourselves by name and affiliation, and said, one after another, “Every child’s live is sacred,” inviting the audience to join us.
For our finale, Yuval Ron — famed composer, activist, educator, and master arranger — rigged his oud and ensemble for a five-chord folk song, Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.” The song is not expressly about religion and has many versions floating around with words Cohen didn’t write. I’m not sure about the provenance of everything the ensemble sang. Yet Yuval Ron told a charming story about persuading Cohen’s estate to let him use the Arabic and Hebrew translations he’d devised for the version he performs. As our evening came to a glorious end, the lyrics managed to invoke the brokenness of our world, the diversity of belief, the irreducible power of our words about the sacredness of children in Israel, Gaza, and everywhere, and even the ambiguity about the song itself:
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you’ve heard
The holy or the broken, Hallelujah.
The concert may be viewed on YouTube here.