Rabbi Kevin de Carli, Center for Interreligious Studies and Interfaith Dialogue, Switzerland
Kevin De-Carli is a Swiss theologian and historian. He is a board member of the council of the theological faculty’s Center for interreligious studies and interfaith dialogue, and president of the students’ body for theological studies at the University of Fribourg. As Rabbi in the orthodox Jewish community in Baden, he is president of the committee for the maintenance of Jewish culture, the workgroup for Christian-Jewish dialogue and the Argovian council for interfaith dialogue. Recent, he participated in the founding of the swiss council of minority religions, with mainly Muslim, Hindu and Sikh participation, to give mutual support and a base for the legal recognition of these religious communities by the swiss government. In the Swiss Army, he is a staff member of the military pastoral care team with the rank of first Lieutenant. He is responsible for the competence center of military animals and veterinarian service and a board member of the committee to integrate non-Christian religions in the army’s pastoral care.
These past months, we all experienced first-hand, how interdependent we really are. I depend on you, to wash your hands and not get me sick. You depend on me, to do the same. The people in the hospitals depended on me and my company to do our service, as we were engaged for 100 days during the Corona Crisis in Switzerland in support of civil institutions. Washing your hands, keeping distance and wearing a mask became universally held values.
Now, in this time of crisis, we were able to witness firsthand, the good and ugly sides of religions and of secular communities. We had hospitals, treating our soldiers with respect and others, expecting them to work 12 hour shifts without breaks, so that their employees could work shorter shifts, as the work was so taxing on their bodies and minds. And the soldiers? Who cares, they’re to do what they’re told.
During the time of our engagement, there were several religious festivities, Easter, Pessach (Passover) and Iftar, to name but a few. And since in my unit, we did not only have Christians, but also Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists, we tried to include them and make space for them to practice their religions and inspire and support each other, sharing their wisdom and values.
Now I, as a commanding officer tried to contact the religious communities in Tessin, to ask for support, food and rations, some decorations, to celebrate with the soldiers. Especially, since our budget was stretched very thin already, we were reliant on their support. Now I called the Rabbi of the Jewish community of Lugano and said, “Listen, the holidays are coming and there are a hand full of Jewish soldiers in my unit. We want them to be able to celebrate Pessach (Passover), can we buy some food from your community? I called the Imam and asked the same question. I called the dean of the huge Catholic cathedral and asked the same question. Now, what happened?
The dean responded first: “The cathedral has nothing to spare, we cannot celebrate Easter in the cathedral and, without a priest in your unit, you cannot celebrate either.”
Then, the Rabbi called me back. “Listen”, he said, “I’m with the Imam and we´re discussing your issue. We would like to support your soldiers that are in service for us, we are not big communities, but we agreed to work together and provide you with something. So I said, great, thanks a lot, so we have two big celebrations, on Pesasch (Passover) and for Iftar.” So, the Rabbi and the Imam asked “Two? What about Easter, are you not celebrating Easter? I said, no, we cannot afford to buy special food for that many people, there is simply not enough budget.” The Rabbi and the Imam agreed, that that wouldn´t do. So, they collected money in their communities, and what was the result? Not only did the small Jewish and Muslim communities provide special meals for the Jewish and Muslim soldiers on their holidays, no. They brought enough food for everyone to celebrate on Pessach (Passover) and Iftar. But not only that. The small Jewish and Muslim communities brought us 300 ribs and two baskets full of chocolate eggs for the Christian soldiers to have a grill party and celebrate Easter.
Here we see the question, how do we act towards other people? As far the police and mayor communities were concerned, with the rising numbers of violence at home, the small communities started supporting and caring for their neighbors. That is terrible. How could we live in a world where spouses couldn’t stand spending more than a couple of hours in their house? Where religious leaders interpret the Covid virus as divine punishment, and each one knows exactly what sin we are being punished for. Just, that they can’t agree on which one we are punished for…
How to act towards other people?
God spoke to the Jewish people, all of them, 3000 years ago at mount Sinai. He didn’t speak to us for 3000 years. The past 2000 years were filled with horribly inhumane situations and circumstances. And God never spoke to a group of people again. And just now God decided to punish us? No, that makes no sense. And there’s another side to it.
God makes people poor. He wants us to give them charity. God makes people hungry. He wants us to feed them. God makes people sick. He wants us to heal them. God puts people in danger. He wants us to save them. God gets angry at people and tells us they deserve punishment. He wants us to argue in their defense.
What’s our role in this relationship? When God says you deserve punishment, he wants us to agree? Sure, he’s really bad, go, smite him.
No, that’s really wrong. So even if the Torah says for this sin you deserve this punishment, our job is to say NO, nobody deserves punishment.
Like Abraham, the first Jew. God tells him, up close and personal, the people of Sodom are exceedingly evil, I’m going to wipe them out. And Abraham believed in God and he trusted God, so he should have said, you know you’re the boss, do what you want. If they’re that bad, wipe them out. Abraham argues, not once, not twice, they should be saved, the whole city, for the merit of a few good people. And these were exceedingly evil people. So, if and when God says I’m angry and I’m going to punish them, defend them, say no, to God.
When Moses saw that he couldn’t defend the people when they made the Golden Calf and God said I’m going to get rid of them, Moses said well, I can’t stop you, but if you get rid of them, you’re going to have get rid of me too. That’s how a Jew should respond. And even if we did deserve punishment, which of course we don’t, so, to say that’s why a plague has struck, and synagogues and churches and masques and temples have been closed, that’s just stupid. Not possible. The opposite is true.
God is saying loud and clear, “I think you’re acting like religion is a community activity. It’s not. It’s personal. Commandments are between me and you. One on one. Stay home, live a good life there. And somewhere that’s more precious.”
It’s you, you as individual. Your mitzvah means everything. Your behavior means everything.
There was a man who was living alone. Literally alone.
The people who died in the past months, they don’t need Kaddish (hymns of praises). Heaven is open and available for them. Without any help.
Now, if were getting a little bit more mystical. What exactly is death?
So, make your house a home. A place to live in and to accelerate life.
Live your life in support and in defense of others.
There is a terrible, morbid misconception many of us are living by. That life is short and miserable, and death is eternal. And that as much as there is eternal reward, there can be eternal damnation. What a terrible belief. What a pointless thing. And from this, many religious institutions derive their power, because the trained professionals claim to hold the keys to eternity. What nonsense.
The opposite is true, that life is eternal, and death is temporary. That each and every immortal soul lives on. It only gets temporarily separated from the body, in which it committed the deeds with, when it was on earth. And to be justly rewarded, the soul has to return to its body. Hell is just the time of cleansing the soul needs before returning.