February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
The Interfaith Sacred Conversation on Race & Diversity is primarily built on the relationship of Seekers Church and Covenant Christian Community, and began in May 2008 in order to understand differences and build community across all boundaries. For our third annual joint worshiping communities worship service we built on our common interest with issues of the criminal justice system and invited Rabbi Charles “Chuck” Feinberg, Executive Director of IAHR (Interfaith Action for Human Rights, http://interfaithactionhr.org ) and a formerly incarcerated member of IAHR’s Board to bring the Word. The following is an amalgam of a spiritual autobiography that Rabbi Feinberg wrote about his rabbinical journey and what he delivered extemporaneously about IAHR.
I was raised in a non-religious home in a Chicago area suburb. Despite the family’s non-religious bent, I did have a bar mitzvah which led to an attraction to Judaism that grew under the tutelage of my rabbi at Hebrew High, where I became very involved in the synagogue youth group. At the age of 15 I told my family that I was interested in the rabbinate, which caused some difficulties in the family, not the least of which was my desire to keep kosher. The compromise reached was that I would keep kosher outside the home, while still eating non-kosher food in my parents’ home. It was one way of illustrating my commitment to my faith.
Throughout my career I have respected both those who believe differently than I do and those who do not believe at all. I also learned the power of example. Ultimately, I teach through the example of how I lead my life. In high school my rabbi sent me to the Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago. At this program I heard Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr., speak for the first time. Both men became my spiritual heroes. Heschel’s writings and his personal example, King’s oratory and leadership, were an inspiration to me. Both men taught me that faith should speak to the moral issues of the day. I also came to realize from Heschel and from my studies, how ritual and ethics are really one in our tradition. Too often, people try to separate ritual from ethics. But I l believe that in Judaism ethics informs the realm of ritual and vice versa.
I became a rabbi because I fell in love with God and Judaism, and because I wanted to serve the Jewish people. The rabbinate has been mostly fulfilling and sometimes disappointing and hurtful, but always interesting and demanding. Above all, my life has been full of blessings. For this I am grateful to the Holy One blessed be He.
During the 40 years that I was the rabbi to Adas Israel in DC, I worked with the congregation on issues ranging from Central American Refugees, poverty and homelessness, interfaith dialog and cooperation, and respect for both Israelis and Palestinians. During this time I was also drawn to the injustice in our criminal justice system, and the horrors of solitary confinement. After my retirement I was invited to be the Executive Director of IAHR, and it has proven to be a place where I can live out my call to human right.
IAHR is currently pursuing advocacy and community building issues centered on solitary confinement, Islamophobia, Guantanamo Detention, and Torture. We do grassroots organizing, mount petitions to let politicians and political institutions of constituency support for bills being considered, and much more. We currently have a banner campaign so that congregations can publicly proclaim their support for our Muslim neighbors (http://www.interfaithactionhr.org/banner_donation).
I would like to introduce you now to my esteemed colleague (name withheld for privacy), who will tell his story of incarceration and solitary confinement, and how the experience has been part of his spiritual journey and his current call to the work of IAHR.