“A person walks in life on a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
On the fall harvest festival of Sukkot—once the most central holiday of the Jewish calendar cycle—we observe the custom of inviting Ushpizin (guests) into our sacred space. Each year, we ask friends and family to bring a photograph of someone with whom they would like to share a meal. Their honored guest can be alive or dead, or a biblical, fictional or historical figure…anyone at all. As Thanksgiving approaches and we celebrate the fall harvest as a nation, I am reminded of our Sukkot celebration earlier this season, when I hosted Grace and Yasmina—and their Ushpizin—at my home. Their choice of guests reflects their deep understanding of the subtext of our interfaith work: We are striving to connect with each other, with our ancestors, with our community and with God. We are holding hands as we walk together across the very narrow bridge, so that we will not be afraid. This Thanksgiving, as I offer thanks for the abundance of my harvest, I am also grateful for their wisdom and friendship.
I invited writer Flannery O’Connor to accompany me into Tziporah’s sukkah. This writer of some of America’s greatest short stories certainly understood, in her personal life, the meaning of a makeshift hut intended to remind the Jewish people of God’s providence throughout the Exodus journey. In her early twenties, O’Connor was stricken with a crippling disease that compelled her to move from what must have seemed a most promising life among the literati of NYC to her mother’s dairy cattle farm in rural Georgia. Yet, in the red clay—and even in the manure of a hen house—O’Connor found a Land of Promise. As I celebrated Sukkot with women whose friendship has been manna for me, I was reminded that God’s daily provisions are sufficient for whatever “wilderness experience” we are called to face and for each narrow bridge we are asked to cross. Abundant reason for thanksgiving!
I wanted to invite a person who could revive some much-needed values in our present day; someone who saw beauty in all humanity, understood our common roots, and stood for the rights of justice and equality. I picked an individual whom I thought best exemplified these virtues. He defied preconceptions and laid the foundation for a wider perspective while crossing a very narrow bridge. He contributed in freeing minds and souls in his time, and is still helping people forge their way across new bridges today; our own interfaith group is a testament to that. Al-hamdu lillah: all praise, all thanks are due to God, and Muslims utter these words not only in prayer, but also in answer to the greeting “How are you?” This is because we recognize the human spirit as one of God’s countless and endless bounties. Tziporah welcomed that spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and me, into our Sukkot celebration.
 The Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon him] taught in his farewell sermon: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor a black has any superiority over white, except by piety and good action.”