By LINDA M. LINONIS
Bonnie Deutsch Burdman injected pop culture, humor and the Golden Rule into her talk, “Welcoming the Stranger: We Are All the Other,” at the 28th annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday.
The interfaith event sponsored by the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches at Mahoning Country Club attracted about 170 people including elected officials, community leaders and clergy.
Burdman, director of Jewish Community Relations and Government Affairs of the Youngs-town Area Jewish Federation, told the group she had hoped to share her “menurkey,” that is a turkey menorah, in anticipation of Hanukkah, which begins at sundown today. Thanksgivukkah is the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. She used that to lead into the idea that Pilgrims and Jews both treasured religious freedom.
She said the basis of the “Golden Rule,” found in all major religions, is mentioned 36 times in the Torah. She cited the passage from Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Who is the other?” she asked. Burdman used a phrase that her mother might say to illustrate — “They just don’t do it the way we do it.” “They” is everyone outside the family, Burdman said, and “it” can be food, traditions, holidays, decorations, cars and houses.
Burdman said in the area of public discourse, there are many examples. “And we’re anything but respectful,” she said.
That atmosphere, especially in Washington, D.C., “is a whirlwind of disrespect,” she said. “It’s easy to get caught up in ugly and uncivil discourse.”
Burdman said productivity would increase immensely if there were more respect and fewer disparaging remarks about “the other side.” She said the affordable health care act is an example. Instead of trying to see that the website is working correctly and the law is interpreted as it should be, some are taking delight in the problems. They’re not seeing that people may be losing insurance and being impacted negatively.
She said “putting yourself in another’s shoes” is an eye-opener. She recalled the TV show “21 Jump Street” and an episode in which a “shock jock radio host” was targeted. An undercover officer, Booker, fills in as a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern and starts to become as obnoxious as the role he’s playing. When Booker realizes that “words hurt,” he goes in the other direction and no one calls into the show. It also turns out the radio host targeted himself to boost his own ratings.
“It is hard work to put yourself in another’s shoes,” Burdman said. “We’ll never all agree with one another. But we need to embrace the differences and treat people with respect.”
The St. Nicholas School Choir from Christ Our Savior Parish in Struthers offered a musical presentation that underscored Burdman’s talk. They sang “Grateful,” “There Will Be Peace” and “Light the Candles,” the last being about the world celebrating together. Lauren Johnson is director.
The Rev. Robbin Del Nagro, MVAC director, welcomed the group and introduced special guests. Prayers were offered by Dr. Sudhakar Rao, a Hindu priest; Iman Walid Abuasi of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown; and the Rev. Daniel Rohan of St. Mark Orthodox Church. The Rev. Lewis Macklin introduced the speaker.