This article originally appeared in The Washington Post in June 2010, written by Eboo Patel. Below is an excerpt.
Nothing is more exciting for me than seeing religious communities practice the command from their tradition to serve others. I had a chance to witness this at the early hour of 7 a.m. in New York today at a breakfast celebrating an emerging organization called Repair the World.
The prophets of our great traditions invoke calls to service – in scripture and verse, parable and hadith, service is a core value across faiths. And because it is a core part of these traditions, it ought to be a core part of both the life the community and religious identity. Repair the World was established to inspire American Jews and their communities to make service a defining part of American Jewish life – “to mobilize Jews to serve with integrity and authenticity” and to inspire and engage the Jewish community in service.
Part of what strikes me about this is the acknowledgment that service is a core part of the American Jewish identity. It suggests that service is a central responsibility of an engaged Jew – an integral part of contributing to the broader community.
I was especially impressed by the sophisticated thinking around service. Repair the World is not only seeking to create large scale service opportunities, but deep and meaningful ones. Not only are they looking at service by Jews for Jews, but they are trying to connect service across different religions (which is why I was there as part of Interfaith Youth Core, as were representatives from other interfaith organizations). They are also connecting with best-in-class civic groups (senior members of City Year were there) and the national service agenda (people from White House and Corporation for National and Community Service joined as well). In fact a member of the Leadership Council of Repair the World, Susie Stern, is also a member of the Host Committee for the National Service Conference taking place at the same time.
Other religious communities have made service central. One thinks of the hospitals and schools that Catholics have established. One thinks of how Habitat for Humanity has become status quo, especially in Evangelical congregations. I will be writing later this week on the emergence of Muslim American civic identity.
But this is the first I have heard of service being considered a sort of rite of passage for being religious. It’s an idea that resonates with my own Muslim tradition. As Repair the World builds its bridges with secular organizations, other religious organizations, and governmental organizations, I hope that those players adopt this central idea: that part of being a Muslim, Evangelical, Catholic, citizen, is serving together.
Eboo Patel is director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, a public-service program designed to bring young people of diverse religious backgrounds together in dialogue. Patel is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He writes “The Faith Divide” blog for The Washington Post.