We’ve had a house guest with us the last few days, a fellow named Josh Stanton. Josh is a rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College, and is the editor and founder of the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. He and I are both attending the Interfaith Youth Core’s conference, which is being held this week at Northwestern.
Josh contacted me a couple of months ago about staying with us, and I immediately said yes. We didn’t know each other, but I feel a sense of openness and responsibility towards rabbinic students, so there was no question in my mind about hosting him.
This morning, Jonah and Micah were having breakfast, when Josh came upstairs from the guest room into the kitchen. Josh and the kids hadn’t met yet, so immediately Josh introduced himself. And what was amazing was that the kids engaged him–not just in the momentary, “My name is Jonah, My name is Micah” part, but for ten or fifteen minutes (which enabled me to get upstairs and get myself ready to take them to school). They had a long conversation. By the time we were ready to go, Jonah asked me, “Abba, can Josh come to school with us?”
Josh commented to me that we have very engaging kids. “When I was four,” he said, “if a stranger said hello, I’d probably run away.” I replied that our kids have grown up with a very open sense of home. Every week they ask if we’re having company for Shabbat, because they expect it. We frequently have guests in our home. And they also have a second home at Hillel. All of this leads them to be very comfortable meeting new people and engaging them. I suppose I’ve taken a lot of this for granted, but this encounter with Josh reminded me of this very special aspect of the work that I do–which spills over into our personal lives in a very significant way.
I frequently write and teach about my favorite of the Big Questions that are so central to my philosophy, namely, “Where do you feel at home?” And I often teach a piece of Jonathan Sacks’s The Dignity of Difference in relation to it:
What would faith be like? It would be like being secure in one’s home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places, knowing that they are someone else’s home, not mine, but still part of the glory of the world that is ours. It would be like being fluent in English, yet thrilled by the rhythms and resonances of an Italian sonnet one only partially understands. It would be to know that I am a sentence in the story of my people and its faith, but that there are other stories, each written in the letters of lives bound together in community, each part of the story of stories that is the narrative of man’s search for God and God’s call to mankind. Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faith of others. In the midst of our multiple insecurities, we need that confidence now. (p. 65)
I think this sums up the kind of people we’re trying to raise our kids–and our students–to be. I say this humbly, but if my kids are any indication, it looks like we’re doing something right.