Beth Israel Speech (excerpts)

Chester County, PA  October 25, 2015

"First I want to say that I stand here as the beneficiary of visionary parenting. One of the great gifts that I received from my mother and father and beyond them from their parents was a gift of warmth, and openness—concepts of not just tolerance but also inclusion.

 

We talk a lot about tolerance in this country. We hear people say they are tolerant of people regardless of race, creed or orientation. Tolerance is only a first step. My parents taught me that tolerance leaves us short of the ultimate goal of inclusion.

 

What your faith and my faith share is an idea of inclusion. We accept that the creator is the creator of all and as such we are all God’s people and none are to be excluded but rather included as we love one another as ourselves.

 

My home was a place where we learned that."

 

"On my father’s side my grandfather died long before I was born but that man Angelo Lafayette Paterno coordinated and organized an Inter-Faith dialogue group in New York City as early as the 1940s. He talked about all the religious groups reaching out to each other and was inclusive of not only different religions but also blacks. This was in the 1940s—long before the ideas of tolerance and civil rights had become a National cause.

 

When Pope Francis visited New York City I thought of my grandfather and father as I watched the interfaith service at the site of ground zero. It was a beautiful service one encompassing all faiths and proving that we can be inclusive and we can stand and worship next to each other and set aside division, discord and hate.

 

I thought of my father’s funeral at an all-faith spiritual center on Penn State’s campus funded by a campaign that he and my mother helped spearhead. They donated over $1 million of their own money and secured a $5 million gift from Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla and $1 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. T

 

hat All-Faith Spiritual Center at Penn State was the dream of many people—including my parents. Today it is the largest on-campus center of its kind in the country and hosts nearly 4 dozen campus ministries. It includes a kosher kitchen and a Muslim prayer room facing Mecca.

 

Programming at the center encourages dialogue between religious groups that in other parts of the world would be facing off in armed conflict. It was a seed planted in the hopes that it could grow to be an example for other schools and other places.

 

Given the rapidly increasing diversity and the growth of the international student population at Penn State it will have an impact beyond the borders of the campus.

 

It is fair to say that Angelo Lafayette Paterno was a visionary man, a man well ahead of his time and those values were learned by his son Joe Paterno and passed on to his children.

 

My father was a great admirer of the Jewish Faith. He would talk about your commitment to the family, your commitment to education and the deep pride in your traditions and history. He admired how your faith has endured—withstanding adversity and horrors but always seeming to emerge stronger. "

"Team sports are about commonality. It is about joining together and finding that which binds us together rather than focusing on that which divides us.

 

Football is a beautiful game. It has a place for people of many skills—there are big strong people, there are smaller faster players. There are people who throw the ball, people who catch the ball. There is brute strength, there is speed, there are blunt force plays and there are electric plays. There are violent collisions and graceful moves.

Between plays many teams huddle up. At Penn State for years our players would hold hands in the huddle as a renewed symbol of unity between each play.

 

In those moments the men in those huddles did not care if the man next to them was black, or white, Christian or Jewish or Muslim. They only cared that you were prepared, that you had worked hard to be a part of the team and that you were focused on playing your role in the pursuit of the common goal.

 

You were only judged by the content of your character, your commitment to excellence and not by the color of your skin or the way you chose to worship. At the end of the day all great teams had the common goal and that was to win the game. "

 

"We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have legislative bodies, and courts and the rule of law to settle our differences rather than through armed conflict. But we must not forget that we have had moments in our country where differences have risen to the level of armed conflict most notably in a tragic and terrible Civil War.

 

Today with the help of a hyper-active media we vilify each other and we cast out those who would negotiate or talk to anyone we disagree with. All too often we resort to the language of intolerance.

 

As a Christian I cringe when I hear others who claim to be more devoted to their faith talk in words that condemn others.

 

I don’t care for those who hold up the Bible as a force to judge others. In my life of faith I never heard or read words of division coming from the Bible.

 

What I have always believed was a moving story about a woman who was to be stoned for her sins. At that moment Christ began to write the sins of those condemning that woman in the sand and he said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

 

My mind has always held on to something that a priest Father James May once told me when he was asked about faith and the idea of “good works” and salvation.

 

He pointed to a story in the Bible where God said to those who were to be in heaven with him “you fed me when I was hungry, when I was hurt you cared for my wounds, when I was homeless you gave me shelter when I was naked you clothed me.”

 

The people asked him when did we ever do that and he responded Whatsoever you do to the least of my people that you do unto me. Note it was about what you do to the LEAST of my people—not the most important people and certainly not you’re here because you judged others or excluded others or cast out those who you disagree with.

 

Those themes are common to all faiths. There are things to learn from all Faiths.

 

My Father told me that to really expand, to really learn you need to spend time with people you don’t agree with, you need to spend time with people who are different from you. Listen and learn and understand where they are coming from.

 

Try to look at life by looking at things from their vantage point. Then you will learn more about them, and ultimately about yourself."

© 2014 Jay Paterno