I was volunteering at the registration table for an interfaith conference where I would be leading a workshop. The conference organizers had generously offered workshop leaders the opportunity to display educational materials, and my daughter had graciously offered to sit at a table with my books.
From across the room, I saw a man wearing a turban stop at the table where my daughter was seated. They chatted for a while—I wasn’t really paying attention—and when I glanced in their direction again, he appeared to be reading the blurbs on the back of the book. Suddenly, he placed it gently on the table and strode purposefully toward me.
Though I was certain we’d never met, there was something familiar about his face. I’m really good with faces, even if I sometimes need help remembering names.
“And you are connected with Clal.” This was more a statement than a question. “So you must know my brothers, Irwin and Brad. I’m Ralph.”
“Yes, they were my teachers at Rabbis Without Borders last year. And Brad is a friend from my previous life in New York.”
Ralph began to talk about the importance of changing our narrative from one of conflict to one of peace. I heard the Torah that I had learned from Irwin and Brad tumbling out of the mouth of a Sikh. It was then that I realized, although we’d never met, we were family.
During the next few days, I got to know Ralph. I listened to him recount his personal story of how his Temple in Upstate New York was destroyed by arson shortly after 9/11. I learned about how he uses stories from different religious traditions to teach respect and love for all people. Ralph believes that sharing stories is the key to creating community. He is a storyteller, a poet, a wise man.
In my line of work, I meet many people of faith—rabbis, ministers, priests, imams—who preach about seeking peace and leading lives devoted to holiness. Ralph doesn’t preach. Ralph just is. I saw holiness in his face when we first met, heard peace in his voice when he recited a prayer for me and my daughter just before we said goodbye.
My brother is grieving and so my heart aches. Yet, despite his sorrow, he continues to share his story and strives to repair the broken narrative of our country’s spirit. I, too, will teach Ralph’s Torah: “A Sikh, wherever he goes in the world, is committed to building a community of peace.”
This story first appeared on the author’s blog, where you will also find links to an interview with Ralph and an op-ed that he wrote in the wake of the tragedy.
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