The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Hannalee Isaacs is a high school senior from Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina. She is an alumna of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and the RAC Teen Justice Fellowship, an ongoing learning cohort offered to alumni of L’Taken. For her final project in the fellowship, Hannalee submitted an entry to Americans United for Separation of Church and State student essay contest. The contest asks students to reflect on church-state separation and religious freedom. Below is an excerpt from Hannalee’s essay.
Religion is a defining identity factor for many individuals. However instead of connecting us, religion has often been used to divide us. The Pew Research Center estimates that over 70% of the current American population follow one of the Abrahamic faiths, all which share a similar belief in spreading peace and love. Specifically, all of these faiths follow the concept to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” a phrase which emphasizes the importance of treating everyone with respect and kindness, regardless of their differences.
After the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, many were shocked when they realized that the nurse who attended to Robert Bowers, the man behind the massacre, was in fact Jewish. The nurse, Ari Mahler, exudes the idea of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” It did not matter that the patient arrived at the hospital yelling “death to the Jews” or the fact that he had just committed multiple homicides. Instead of acting in disgust, Mahler decided to be the bigger person. After the events of that day, Mahler reflected: “I wanted [Bowers] to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?” Simply, Mahler acknowledged that religious beliefs should play no role in determining one’s medical treatment; rather, he focused on the fact that both he and Bowers united under the label of “American.” Mahler’s remarks showcase how love and unity have the power to overcome all fear and discrimination.
We can no longer simply watch as these tragedies occur. Like Mahler, Americans - especially the youth who will guide our nation’s future - must realize that treatment regarding different religions is not equal in our current society and act on it to create a more just world. By educating ourselves on the diversity of religions present in America and modeling what true pluralism can look like, students can lead the way in transforming our nation to be a land of total religious acceptance.