Libyan rebels have taken the Tripoli compound of Muammar el-Qaddafi (New York Times spelling). The Libyan poet and writer Khaled Darwish wrote in a Times op-ed piece yesterday, “My son Mohammad waved our new flag of independence in one hand and held a martyr’s picture in the other as he chanted, ‘The blood of martyrs is not spilled in vain.’” We can all respond, “Amen.” But while we can hope that a brighter future awaits Libya, we cannot know.

Couples often endure nine long months of pregnancy anticipating that at the moment of birth, their trials will end. But as parents know, birth is just the beginning. The future, despite our dreams and plans, remains uncertain, and each day takes tremendous effort.

So it will be with Libya. The nation must build the institutions of a civil and workable society virtually from scratch. To do it, Libyans from a variety of factions—political and tribal—will have to find common ground to avoid turning their country into another Iraq. This will require a new sense of openness—of family—marked by accepting others’ differences and compromise. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I would hold out to Libyans the much smaller example of my synagogue, San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel.

I wrote an ad running in today’s J., the Jewish Weekly of Northern California, based on Sherith Israel’s winning the J.’s Readers’ Award for “Best Interfaith Programming.” The headline states: “We’re not all Jewish. But we’re family.” Interfaith, in my opinion, constitutes a misnomer. Sherith Israel is, after all, a synagogue for Jewish worship, study and celebration. (We partake in social justice, too, but this also is true of churches, mosques, and other houses of worship.) That being said, our synagogue is not only for Jews.

We have long welcomed non-Jewish spouses and partners into our temple family. There’s no pressure to convert—and many don’t—although we offer a yearly course on Jewish basics for Jews and non-Jews wishing to learn more. The range of genetic and cultural backgrounds often startles visitors. But we’re unified by our commitment to Jewish families even if that commitment is expressed on a broad continuum of observance.

The fact is, our non-Jewish spouses and partners tend to be highly supportive of Sherith Israel. Many play active roles in the congregation within some limitations. (You have to be Jewish to serve on the board or chair a committee.) Non-Jewish parents promote their children’s Jewish education and identity as did my wife, Carolyn, as our three children went through Religious School, became bar and bat mitzvah and then were confirmed leading to lengthy summer trips to Israel.

Alas, the concept of family in an extended context—of focusing on what binds all of us rather than what divides—is not found everywhere in American society. Thus Libya confronts a serious challenge. May they and us come to see each other all as members of the human family just as the Torah teaches us that we are all—Jews and not—the children of the same Creator.

For a take on family regarding Muslims in America, see Jill Waldman’s wonderful short story, “The Submission,” in the September Atlantic magazine.

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  1. Herb Z on August 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Well written and right on point.

  2. Carolyn Power on August 31, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Beautifully written with a beautiful message.

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