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Rabbi Jack Moline Chairman of the Board, The Interfaith Alliance - Rabbi of Agudas Achim, Alexandria, Virginia
In Their Own Words

Rabbi Jack Moline
Chairman of the Board, The Interfaith Alliance

--- Ben Burrows

PJV: I had also been involved with the Interfaith Alliance about 10 years ago with a local Philadelphia branch. After reading about the recent Rachel Ray/Dunkin Donuts protest which your President, Reverend Gaddy wrote, I got curious, and started looking around to find what had happened. Apparently, there is no longer a Philadelphia branch to link up with...

We'll try to fix that.

PJV: What is it that the Interfaith Alliance stands for today? I have a statement here from your website, but I'd be interested in getting your take as an individual and as the Chairman of the Board.

The Interfaith Alliance is a national organization, which now for almost a generation has been addressing the relationship between religious faith, politics and government. It stands for faith and freedom. We are, to the best of our knowledge, the only national organization that addresses the positive influence of religion on government and government on religion, protecting the independence of each.

PJV: : How does the Interfaith Alliance involve itself in public affairs and in the activities of its members?

We have essentially two approaches. The first, which is carried out primarily by the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, which is our non-profit educational operation. We are involved in educating both the public, and people who are running for office, about the rules and regs for introducing religious concepts, religious influence, religious practices in a political process and in other areas of government. The other (nd probably higher-profile work we do)is advocacy work. We initiate coalitions with others to protect the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Constitution. At the same time, we advocate for the free expression of religion by people who believe that religion can have a positive healing effect on the ills of our society through education.

PJV: In the past, I've seen some of the guides for candidates that you've put out that identify issues of religious pluralism.

Right. We don't take a position on particular issues in those voter guides. Those voter guides are designed to help guide people ask questions and to instruct them as to what the parameters are for legitimate discussion – without endangering the non-profit status of the religious institution, through such discussions, while providing a forum for religious inquiry.

PJV: Do you provide voting records on particular bills or anything -- as some pamphlets from the religious right have done?

We do not. We find that to be, even if it is vaguely legal, it's going to be highly inappropriate. It's a blatant attempt to influence the way people vote, which should not be done under the auspices of the religious institution.

PJV: And do you also provide guides for houses of worship to allow them to discuss certain types of issues without violating government guidelines?

Well, really any issue can be discussed without violating government guidelines. Our guide for congregations is to emphasize how important it is that they stay out of the political process, that is, a campaign for office. So, while the issues of reproductive choice or sexual preference – or defining beginning or end of human life -- may be the cause of discussion, from a religious point of view in a house of worship, focusing on candidates who agree with that point of view, or endorsing a candidate who holds that particular point of view, is highly inappropriate.

PJV: How did you get involved with the Interfaith Alliance, and its work?

I've always been involved in interfaith work from the time I was a teenager. I've always been politically active and when this young organization was trying to put together a board of leadership about 15 years ago, I saw the opportunity to get involved and I've been active ever since.

PJV: You have apparently been involved with quite a number of positions, including one as a pulpit rabbi, but also as... President of the Washington Board of Rabbis and the Alexandria Interfaith Association. But you've also had teaching positions Cathedral College of Washington, at National Episcopal Cathedral, at Operation Understanding D.C. and at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

I've been around.

PJV: Yes, that's quite a lot of positions for even an energetic and committed rabbi to assume. I imagine the demands on your time as a pulpit rabbi are pretty astronomical as it is. The dedication that you have to religious democracy is remarkable.

That's very kind of you. I think what I'm doing is what I hope any citizen would do and it allows me to set an example, particularly from the pulpit. I don't think my congregation has any doubts as to what directions my politics take. I try very, very hard -- when I will address issues from the pulpit -- to keep my politics out of the pulpit. While I may take positions on internal synagogue congregational issues, or frame issues which face the Conservative movement in Judaism, my goal in the pulpit is to address how the tradition takes a look at some of these issues -- generally from a number of different perspectives. When I'm on my own time however, I don't feel any compunction about involving myself or expressing myself and that's what every good citizen ought to do.

PJV: What are your duties as Chairman of the Board of the Interfaith Alliance?

I'd like to tell you they involve mostly coming out on state occasions and smiling for the cameras and the donors, but like any non-profit board we have business that ranges from budget and by-laws to policy and public stances that we have to consider. And so, I'm involved with all of that. We have an organization to run, which means that there are administrative aspects to it. I'm sure you know as a volunteer with a relatively low-budget operation that low-budget and no-budget are not the same and the money has to come from somewhere. And so we do our share of fund-raising and I'm involved in that. and then there is program as well. We have a variety of things, you can take a look at our website that lead to challenges, not just for our professional staff, but for our lay leadership as well. Of course I have the great pleasure of running board meetings. And if anybody at a board meeting knows, at least you have something to do when running it.

PJV: How would people get contact with the Interfaith Alliance? And what kinds of activities could they involve themselves with?

The easiest way to find out more about us is by going to our website, which is http://www.interfaithalliance.org/ and there are all sorts of ways to get involved, from contributing money, to signing onto our alert list (to be aware of those national and local issues that require the attention of people like myself) and to information about projects like "State of Belief” radio program -- which talks in positive, progressive terms about religion and politics. On a local level, the website will take people who are fortunate enough to have an active Alliance in their area to link to their local Alliance. I'm sure that before long, we'll have one back and running in Philadelphia. We do have a Pennsylvania Alliance, which is mostly focused in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, but we'll get back up and running in the Eastern part of the state, too. The number keeps growing. We have something on the order of 29 or 30 states which have local membership, and focus on the issues that are important to them in this context. In Oklahoma, we comment on the refusal of the state legislature to accept the gift of copies of the Koran that were provided by the Muslim community. In New York, it might be the issue of school vouchers and its religious implications. It varies from state to state.

PJV: Have you found that elements of our own Jewish community are upset with your involvement with members of other faiths?

There is an element of the Jewish community that will be upset at any public position that anybody takes. So, yes there are some people who want to know why I'm wasting my time, or why I'm not spending all of my energy for advocacy talking to non-Jews about supporting Israel (which they feel should be the one and only question in such interfaith discussions); or why I'm not devoted to the containment of Iran, or things like that. Those are people who have a different political perspective than I do. There are also some who believe that the separation between government and and religion in our country is not such a good thing; and that the boundaries ought to be more porous. These are the people who support charitable choice and school voucher programs and stuff like that; they object to what I'm doing as well. But you know what? Disagreements in the Jewish tradition then, is almost as sacred as the tradition itself. It doesn't bother me so much that I get pushback.

PJV: Is there anything you'd like to tell the Philadelphia Jewish community or if you have particular friends that you would like to talk to through our conversation?

That's very kind. One of the great things about Philadelphia is that it is home to a broad spectrum of political discourse. You have the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College there, the Shalom Center which is also based in Philadelphia, they anchor the left end of the political spectrum. And if I'm not mistaken, isn't Morton Klein (President, Zionist Organization of America) there as well?

PJV: I believe so.

Okay, so you can't get much further to the right than Mort Klein. So, I admire the community of Philadelphia because they're unencumbered by the politics of Washington that would require that everything appeal to some common denominator. It's a good model for the rest of the country to have this sort of unfettered political debate, so long as it's done with respect. On the extremes that's a little less usual than a little closer to the center, but there's still something of value to what everybody says. And I would just say, "Keep up the good work."

PJV: Philadelphia is happy to continue our tradition of open discussion... Do you want to talk about this Rachael Ray thing?

If you look carefully at the picture, that the scarf was black and white paisley. It wasn't a keffiyeh at all. It has fringes, but it was something a stylist put on Rachael Ray for the sake of the commercial because she thought it made her look better. I didn't think it made her look better, but if you took a careful look, you saw that it was not a keffiyeh at all. It was a paisley scarf that was sort of elegantly draped around her.


To view previous editions of "In Their Own Words", please click here.

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