CHEYENNE — There was one consistent message in a gathering of local Wyoming spiritual leaders at Mt. Sinai Synagogue on Monday delivered about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas — a need for peace above all else.
The five spiritual leaders who spoke at An Interfaith Peace Vigil for the Middle East didn’t claim to have all the answers about the Israel-Hamas War. What they did urge was prayer and consideration for the people of Israel and Palestine who are now involved in a full-scale modern war.
“We want to recognize the horrible toll war takes on everyone, especially innocent civilians,” said Dave Lerner, president of the Mt. Sinai board of directors. “Civilians who just want to raise their families, who live to have good lives and look ahead to the future. Those civilians didn’t deserve tragedy.”
First United Methodist Church of Cheyenne Associate Pastor The Rev. Todd Scranton, also co-president of the Cheyenne Interfaith Council, struggled for the right words for the roughly 75 people in attendance before asking for a moment of silence for those affected by the war.
He said religious beliefs, and specifically people’s belief in God, often end up being one of the most divisive inflection points in society, so “perhaps the best thing to do is say nothing.”
“We have literally killed one another about the words we say about God,” he said.
Doug Fowler, a leader in the Cheyenne Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, said everyone is a child of God.
“We’re all brothers and sisters,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand that.”
Frontier United Methodist Pastor Patricia Bell said she was recently approached by a member of her congregation about what she thinks of the war.
“My reply was, ‘The older I get, the more questions I have, and the fewer answers I have,’” Bell said.
When Bell recently heard a tearful young Jewish man speak about the conflict, she instantly became motivated to do something in response.
“As a pastor, all I could think of was we need to pray, because I have more questions and less answers as I get older,” she said. “We’re here today to use the only weapon I believe we believers have, and that is to pray and understand God as each of us understand God.”
J.R. Atkins, preacher at Grace United Methodist Church and United Methodist Church of Pine Bluffs, studied in an Arabic-speaking church in Bethlehem, a city on the West Bank of Palestine. Although he arrived with an intention to solve all the local problems, Atkins said he was quickly put in his place.
“It is complicated, it is beyond my understanding and imagination,” Atkins said. “It’s deeper than what I can come up with possible solutions, but I don’t lose hope.”
Atkins advised the audience to pray, love and talk to each other. The only side he’s interested in taking is the side of peace.
“There are plenty of people that are going off of soundbites or are just saying whatever they’ve heard repeated,” he said. “It is our job here to go below that.”
The event was sponsored by the Interfaith Council, a coalition of religious groups in Wyoming’s capital city. In somewhat contrast to an event held earlier this month at the Capitol in support of Israel, Monday’s event was intended to show support for both Israel and Palestine.
Various poems and songs were also read throughout the night. Lerner read from the lyrics of the 1970 Edwin Starr song “War.”
“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” Lerner said, quoting the song with the audience chanting along.
Rabbi Moshe Halfon of Mt. Sinai helped organize the event. He said the Israel-Hamas War has created a new sense of unity among the Israeli people, bridging together people from different walks of life and more and less stringent religious beliefs.
“There are some lights in the darkness,” he said.
Not So Simple
Noam Mantaka, an Israeli national who now lives in Cheyenne, struck a slightly less conciliatory tone than the religious leaders, saying it takes “two to tango” when it comes to striking peace.
He is a former member of the Israel Defense Forces. Mantaka said his country wants peace, but achieving this during the ongoing conflict is much easier said than done.
“When you don’t have the right partner for peace, it’s very hard to make peace,” Mantaka said.
He said too many people are being guided by the media in their choice to decide which side to support in the war.
Mantaka said people in Wyoming and America should care about the conflict in his home country because he fears the war could soon evolve into World War III because of the United States backing Israel, while Iran and Lebanon support Hamas, and China and Russia also begin to get involved.
The divide between the world powers was visibly apparent recently at the United Nations Security Council, where efforts to pass a cease-fire resolution in response to the conflict were stymied by disagreements among members, including the U.S., Russia and China, all of whom wield vetoes.
Although the U.S. has supported humanitarian pauses to allow aid to reach Gaza, it has consistently rejected calls for a cease-fire, insisting that Israel must be given time to eradicate Hamas.
Halfon stressed that Americans shouldn’t let the war allow hate to spill into their own country. A Palestinian American woman and her 6-year old son were fatally stabbed earlier this month in what authorities believe was a hate crime carried out by her landlord.
“There are people who are just trying to drag back into the pit of the caveman mentality,” he said. “Allow yourself to be at a loss for words. The speechlessness you’ve experienced is a sign of our humanity and humility.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.