Margaret Mead, the great anthropologist, was slightly off-track when she opined that it took only a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world. It does not necessarily require a small group; one person charged by her dreams and fueled by her determination and energy is capable of galvanizing a movement and making a difference. It has been my great privilege and blessing to work alongside Ruth Sharone for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and to found the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (SCCPWR). It is a joy to see this book offered to the world, at last, detailing her dreams, her struggles and triumphs. I am convinced that it will inspire and empower those receptive souls who are willing to attend to its many lessons and insights.
Ruth in her own way is a miracle-worker. Nor is that just hyperbole. There are many examples in the book of Ruth’s imagination and drive: the Freedom Seders, first in Israel and Egypt and then in other parts of the world, built around the Exodus narrative of the Israelites’ liberation from bondage; her remarkable film God and Allah Need to Talk shown widely not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America; her idea of citizen diplomacy involving diplomatic missions and their cultural-political outreach; and the hundreds of interfaith events and meetings that she has either helped to organize or has participated in. Anyone who has put together such events does not need to be told about the sweat and tears, and occasionally blood, that these initiatives involve. To be at it for more than 20 years and to grow in the process bespeaks firm, unshakeable commitment and resolve.
The deeper challenge of interfaith work, however, is the personal and intrafaith one. To be truly open and hospitable to the “other” involves the willingness to be seriously challenged and transformed as a religious practitioner and as a person. This existential demand is especially severe when it involves a Jewish woman, who loves both Judaism and Israel, and who is also solicitous and caring, as Ruth is, about the welfare of Muslims and of Arabs and Palestinians. Her deep-seated respect for Muslims and for Islamic faith and culture has won her a lot of friends in Muslim communities, but it has also brought her a fair share of vituperation and grief. Ruth has remained steadfast, and indeed has grown as a person, in the midst of such negativity—what she refers to in the book as “minefields.”
Purity of heart, says Kierkegaard, is to will one thing only and to sacrifice everything, including one’s personal well-being for that cause. In Ruth’s case that “one thing” has been the quest for peace achieved through deeper interreligious understanding and respect. That purity and passion are palpable in her and have enabled her to win the trust of people, even those with sharply divergent orientations and viewpoints. For example, she documents in the book her hard-won friendship with a Bangladeshi Muslim man who strongly disagrees with her about Israeli-Palestinian politics. She also describes how easily misunderstandings and mistrust can grow in this area of interfaith communication when we are most exposed and vulnerable, and how we have to be willing to be scrupulously honest with ourselves and understanding and forgiving of others. Her reconciliation with friends and acquaintances involved in such misunderstandings is deeply moving.
There are multiple riches in this book. But what stands out for me, and I hope for others, is her boldness of vision and the personal qualities that Ruth brings to the task of translating this vision into reality. She touches on some of the deepest existential challenges facing us as a human species:
“Are we doomed to eternal warfare or is there a common ground of humanity that unites us regardless of our (different) dearly-held beliefs?” “Can we expand our consciousness and our capacity to accept one another?” “Can we create bonds of trust and friendship that will not jeopardize or compromise our own beliefs, while we simultaneously show honor and respect to those on a different path?”
And, finally, the urgent question of our time that in a sense encapsulates the previous ones: “Are we finally ready to achieve world peace through our efforts and can interfaith dialogue actually hasten that process?”
Ruth is indeed a dreamer and a visionary but is also immensely practical and--like the best of dreamers--is willing to work hard to make such dreams a reality using all her formidable energy, wit, commitment, and boundless love for human beings in the process. In our local interfaith community we have witnessed with our own eyes the miracle that she is. It is my fervent hope that the miracles that she has created both in this beautifully written book and in her life are widely experienced. They are significant and inspiring steps along the arduous road to world peace.
Joseph Prabhu, Professor of Philosophy
California State University, Los Angeles
Co-Chair, Interfaith Ambassadors for a Parliament of the World’s Religions