A Message from the Head: The Shared World


“This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.”
–Naomi Shihab Nye
“Gate A-4”


After reading several articles about the recent vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City and the responses to this by area Rabbis, Imams, other faith and community leaders, as well as concerned citizens, I thought about Naomi Shihab Nye’s short prose poem “Gate A-4,” particularly the line that reads, “This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.”

I know that not all acts of vandalism and violence are reported or make the news, nor are the many other examples of communities reaching across difference toward each other in support as acts of justice or love. The shared world that St. Louis native Naomi Shihab Nye experienced in her prose poem can be found by design or by accident if we look, if we dedicate our actions to this sharing, and if we are open to calling and reaching out to another (and calling and reaching back as well).

I wonder this morning about how we can scale this in such a way that it is not just smaller communities that work within likenesses and across differences, but larger ones as well. Sharing the world in this way is not an accident. Sharing the world in this way must be intentional. My experience of shared worlds is that they often run along lines of comfort and affinity, exist spontaneously in moments of joy and ease, and feel generous and affirming.

When we share space and experience and when we consider what spaces we do not share and cannot experience might be like, we develop a practice of empathy that might act as a stop gap between intersections of power, opportunity, systems, anti-Semitism, and the like and acts of vandalism, violence, or hatred.

Whether the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery was spontaneous or organized, I find myself being thoughtful about what systems of power, oppression, and targeting culminated in such a reckless, painful, and unnecessary display. I see the shared world emerging to support, repair, and respond to this act of vandalism, and I insist that we consider, interrogate, design, and create a shared world that would prevent such an act in the first place.

I commit to this work at Crossroads, even as I have made mistakes, stalled, or failed in it, and I believe that we, together, can scale up from our small school and community into our region and beyond as we design, create, and live into a shared world for the benefit of each of us.

With great expectations,