Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein Transcript

Clint Betts

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, it is an honor to have you on this show to talk about all the incredible things you are doing. We've become friends over the past little time.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

We've become very friends and I'm very, very grateful for our becoming friend-hood.

Clint Betts

And I'll tell you what. We had a meeting about something a week, week and a half ago. I can't remember the exact time because everything's a blur these days. And I said to you, I don't know anyone in the world working on as big of things as you are with a bigger mission. And you didn't believe me, but I really think that's true.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

It was vision last week. Now it's expanded to a mission.

Clint Betts

Vision, mission, everything.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Oh, you're too kind, Clint. I think you're too kind. I think the slopes where you are, they're obstructing your distance vision. And therefore you're only seeing as far as the slopes go. Maybe from another angle things would look different. But I appreciate it. I will say that you had said at the time that most people come to you with a vision of, “How can I break into the Chinese market?” So yeah, if that's the comparison, then our vision is different. Our vision is how to break into the human heart and how to break the human heart into the heart of God and how to create a deeper unity and understanding among the world's faiths, leaders, and communities so that we all grow in understanding towards a more peaceful and mutually supportive world. It sounds big, but it breaks down into concrete things. So when you break it down, there's a lot of good activities, but those are the horizons that frame our activities. Thank you, now for quite some time, for showing your support, solidarity and partnership. Thank you, Clint.

Clint Betts

Of course. Yeah. I think what you're doing is incredible. And for those listening, what bigger vision or mission than what you just described? It's unbelievable. I want to talk about what you're working on and the incredible things you're doing both as the organization and yourself personally. But first let's talk about your personal journey.

How did you become a rabbi?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

How I became a rabbi was actually, when I was growing up, I had two visions of what I would want to become. One was a judge and the other was a scholar of religions. So people ask me, I don't think I ever had the desire to become a fireman. So scholar of religions and both of these combined a little bit in the person of a rabbi. So I had already some kind of feeling for religion, for spirituality.

Actually becoming a rabbi was a purely matter of convenience. In Israel where I live, we'd have military service till at the time I think it was till 45. And I needed something where I was a little bit in control of my situation and being a rabbi gives you autonomy and service. So I became a rabbi just so I could be an army chaplain. I'm an academic by training. So for many years that rabbi didn't really play into it.

I am a scholar of religion. I'm a scholar of Judaism of theology and of comparative religion. What happened is that by launching a kind of second career after my midlife crisis in interfaith relations and bringing together world religious leaders, being a rabbi suddenly really became what it was about. But I can say within impunity, I never led a congregation. It was never a rabbi in the ordinary common sense. So for me, a rabbi is a teacher and I am that. I am a teacher. I'm a teacher within Judaism. And now through my interfaith work, I'm a teacher to a large extent to all religions with this particular vision that I've been inspired to carry.

Clint Betts

How come faith is so important to you, particularly in a world where—

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

That's a really good question.

Clint Betts

Don't you think we live in a world where it's becoming less and less important to people? Or maybe that's just my perception of things.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Well, you've asked two separate questions. How come faith is important to me? I didn't anticipate that. There are two theories and I still can't figure out which it is. Are some people naturally religious while others are not and therefore it's just an inborn inclination if you want to speak in terms of reincarnation or previous life according to some systems, in parentheses I believe in that, or is it just a case of exposure? But many people were exposed? Why is God real to me? Why is faith? Why does it matter to me more than it matters to other people? In other words, many people, my brother included, he had the same formation and went through the same training. Religion is not important for him.

For me, God, religious life, working in religion is everything. I'm increasingly thinking, and it's a problem for religious thought, that not all men and women were created equal in terms of their religious gene, which is a problem because ideally the system should work for everyone. So honestly, I don't know. You know the notion of covenant where you have a relationship with God? So who initiates it and why does God's love choose one person and not another? And is everyone chosen equally? And in theory, everyone is. But the fact is some are bitten. Some have the bug, some don't. Or maybe as in your tradition, I think, how does it go? Many are called and few are chosen.

Clint Betts

Right. Yeah. And then the second question there is, from your perspective—

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Is religion becoming less important to people?

Clint Betts

Well, yeah. And what's interesting about that question to me, to you, is religion is important to you. And so as you look around, does it bother you? Is it something that you feel like, "Hey, we need to work on this as a society," or is it something like to each their own, the fact that maybe it's going in that direction?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

We live in the world of missionaries. In Utah, at least 50% of the kids, when they graduate from high school they go on a mission. So I've got a missionary streak in me, not for a religion, but for a vision and for a vision of God and a vision of humanity. And I think it's very important because even if not everybody has the fullness of the religious experience, but we are less than the fullness of our human potential if we don't cultivate our spiritual side. I'm not making the argument for ethics, which I think is valid. I'm not making the argument for values, which I think is valid. Many people will make just those arguments. I'm talking about conscious relationship, living with God, life of prayer, spirituality, spiritual growth, rising beyond the animal drive, the societal competition, the selfish gene, call it what you will.

We need something to raise us beyond those pulls if we are to be fully human, which means fully spiritual. And that historically has been religion. Nowadays, we've got this phenomenon of spiritual, but not religious, which has to withstand the test of time. Can it sustain a society and generations that at least have an aspiration of people to rise above that. So do I think everybody has to? Yes. My vision is that everyone has to. But I think religion, Rav Kook actually today, the day we're recording this interview, is the 87th anniversary of the passing away of one of the greatest spiritual luminaries in the history of Judaism, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. He was first chief rabbi then of British mandatory Palestine. He had an all embracing vision of love and unity. And his vision was that nothing is out of God's plan, which means that also secularism is not out of God's plan, which means that also moving away from religion is not out of God's plan.

And the need to move away from religion is part of the purification of religion because people can live religion as something low, selfish, full of fear. You observe a certain way of life, because you're afraid of going to hell. I remember going to a monastery once here in the Judean Desert. I met a monk. "What are you doing here?" "I'm saving myself from hell." That's a little vision as you would call it in. Man spends his whole life there in a monastery just to save himself from hell. Doesn't speak to me. So religion has to be purified. It has to grow. So secularism very often comes to purify, but it's a step along the way towards a higher realization.

And therefore when I see the world as it is, the world can't survive without spirit, without God. But on the other hand, God's name has also been taken in vain and abused by religious systems that are too self involved. So we need to move away from religion to come back and own it in a higher way. And my own work, both theologically and in interfaith work, is trying to re-own it on a higher level. You re-own religion in such a way that there's room for everyone and we all grow together and that religion is about growth, not about power, control and manipulation.

Clint Betts

That's beautiful. Again, an incredible vision. Your vision and what you work on in the world, it blows me away. It's so inspiring. You mentioned a couple times Utah and kind of the connections—

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. Just be careful that I don't start counting how much time a day I spend in prayer at the end of all these compliments you're giving me.

Clint Betts

Okay. You've mentioned the Utah and Israel connection. It's interesting that we're talking now because I've had a number of meetings with several people from Israel over the past month or two in the State of Utah. And in these meetings, it's always like, "Man, there's a lot of similarities between our cultures, between Israel and Utah." And I'd never really thought about that until they brought it up to me. And you've spent some time here in Utah, you're bringing a delegation from Utah to Israel, which we're going to talk about here.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

No, no. To Assisi, to Italy.

Clint Betts

Oh yeah. Sorry, to Italy, which we'll talk about here. And you also interviewed Elder Holland, who's a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And that's been viewed over a million times, correct, this interview?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

I haven't checked. I'll fill you in on the background to that in a second. Yeah. So finish the sentence, finish the question.

Clint Betts

So what do you think? Are there cultural similarities between Utah and Israel? Why do you think this connection seems to be blossoming right now?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

You ask questions from a big vision perspective that I'm not capable of answering. I can tell you the following. Utah is my favorite place in the US. I love Utah. I love the people of Utah. I love the valley. I love the nature. It's really my favorite place. And people in Utah didn't know that, but Michelin recently ranked Utah three stars as the only state in the US that gets three stars. So maybe Michelin also has an Israeli or Utah soul. I don't know. So there's something down to earth, real, open, sincere. I think it comes from the pioneer spirit. Maybe it's to do with a sense of persecution, being a minority, having to stake your own ground. Maybe it has to do with taking religion seriously. Maybe it has to do with not being controlled by those material drives because the second thing we spoke about, do you need religion or not? Religion is so deeply woven into the fabric of life in Utah and yet Utah at the same time is also a manifestation of the fullness of life and achievement in many domains.

So it's an interesting paradox. Religion doesn't keep you behind, rather it inspires growth. It inspires expression, manifestation. Well, I can see some similarities between that and the story of Israel, the people of Israel and eventually the nation of Israel, because there's a sense of persecution, minority, values, taking religion seriously and then flourishing. So culture, I don't know, because I think Israel's culture is much more complex. It's a blend of cultures because of the Jews being in so many different parts of the world. At the end of the day, LDS legacy is ultimately Protestant legacy. I don't know if it's the same culture, but there's definitely a spirit and taking religion seriously and a sense of mission that binds people together. If you ask me what binds people together, humanity and decency. I get a level of decency and open-heartedness that doesn't characterize some of the bigger metropolises of the US. I don't want to say anything bad about anyone and God willing, I'm not. But there is something very particular to Utah's way of being that moves me.

Clint Betts

We're often called peculiar.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Peculiar.

Clint Betts

You said particular. I was like, "Oh, that's close to peculiar."

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

In what way are you called peculiar? What do people mean when they say that?

Clint Betts

I don't know. That actually sounds, as I said, it sounds like a negative thing.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. It sounds weird.

Clint Betts

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. But not cool weird because Austin, Texas, is known as weird and that's like a cool weird. And we're known as peculiar, which I think is just like, "Eh, that's pretty freaking weird." And so I think it's a different kind of weird.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

How much of it is because people know you, and how much because people have preconceived ideas about Mormon culture without ever having set foot there?

Clint Betts

It's likely the second one, it's likely the latter.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

I suspect that. I suspect that. I also thought Mormon's had horns, but then I met them.

Clint Betts

Well, one thing that you did that's kind of helping on this front is this interview with Elder Holland. How did that come about?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Oh yeah. So because I cultivate friendships, and friendship is a major, major part of my vision and testimony, and after I finish the answer, I'll circle back to that, when Corona hit, I felt that we needed to bring the voice of religious leaders of all faiths, as signs, as directions, as encouragement to the people. I had done a previous project of which I'll talk about in just a second. And based on that, which was based on video interviews, I reached out to about 40 world religious leaders and I wanted to get an LDS voice in there. And because I had a relationship with Elder Holland who had previously been designated as my point of contact, that has changed since I've got Elder Dave Bednar nowadays as a wonderful friend and point of contact. I went back to Elder Holland and we had this interview and it was moving in its transparency. He was very, very open in ways that I hadn't anticipated.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

I think in the course of the interview, he gave me big compliments about being a very good interviewer. And that really made for fascinating conversation. You could see on the YouTube comment section, people found comfort and inspiration in these two religious personalities from two different religious cultures talking about meeting challenges through spiritual power. It gave people courage, gave people hope. So if you allow me, let me take a step back and explain how... This project by the way, we called it Coronaspection—Coronaspection, introspection apropos of Corona. And there's a website called Coronaspection.org where these 39 interviews are, Coronaspection.org. They're also on our homepage. I don't think I had a chance to say that the name of my organization is the Elijah Interfaith Institute.

So it's the Elijah Interfaith Institute that hosted the Coronaspection project. So you can Google Elijah Interfaith Institute or Google Coronaspection. And that allows me to take a step—

Clint Betts

We'll put it all on the screen.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Okay, cool. So let me take a step back. So the Elijah Interfaith Institute brings together high level religious leaders from all major faith traditions. And we sit at the thinking, reflecting experience, spiritual end of the interfaith spectrum. Interfaith spectrum is broad and all of it is good. Different people do different things. So people can get together to fight graffiti on the streets across and people clean up or support the poor or fight climate change or do anything in religious communities. But religious communities and religious thinkers and leaders can get together to better understand each other and to grow spiritually, to draw inspiration from one another. Our motto is sharing wisdom, fostering peace. Sharing wisdom. So that's been very central from the moment I founded the organization here in Jerusalem 25 years ago in 1996. Sharing wisdom was at the heart of it.

So because of that, we see at that particular top level of people who are interested in interfaith because of the inspirational value, for the growth value, for the wisdom value. And that has led us to the creation of think tanks unique in drawing together the wisdom and the scholarship, academic scholarship of at least six religious traditions that have been working together on multiple projects, all of which are listed on our website, we're not going to go into them now, all of which have come out as book publications. So we've been outputting content, books,and research. But that think tank of the Elijah Interfaith Institute supports the work of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders. The Dalai Lama, he's a member of the board, said, "The most profound and intimate group working in interfaith." Which, and then I said, "Well, can I quote?" And they said, "Yes, you can quote." So it's one of my pet quotes, a quote from the Dalai Lama.

Clint Betts

It's quite the endorsement.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Absolutely. Which is why I asked for permission to quote. It is quite the endorsement as you say. So it's that quality of depth and intimacy that then leads to friendship. And what happened is that in 2017, I worked with a partner in a Dutch advertising company on a campaign called, "Make friends across faiths." And because we work with high level religious leaders, we were able to realize a project that he actually tried to realize, but no one returned his calls, of bringing together the world's, some of the world's, most of the world's top tier religious leaders to deliver a message, "Make friends across religions." In other words, our lives change when we have a friend. The problem is when people remain close within their community and the view of the other is utilitarian or practical, there's no real relationship. So making friends across religions is a way of breaking that. And then you change your whole outlook.

And we're hoping to launch that as part of a long term declaration of friendship that's grown from that. Because if the message is that we have to make friends, then we want to turn this into a global movement of friendship to get religious leaders worldwide signed on to it. And without movement of religious friendship across religions, then to act within the community and to do ongoing work of sharing. So just to close the circle of where we started two topics ago, having done this series of interviews with friends, I realized I could do the same for Corona. And that's what led to Coronaspection, which in turn brought Elder Holland on board. So there's two very, very rich video series, one on friendship, one on dealing with Corona. And there's great visions ahead in terms of what this group can do. Maybe we want to go there.

Clint Betts

Yeah. Tell me what you think this group can do.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

I think this group can give a message to the world. I think that this group can tell its story to the world and make a difference. I've already shared two projects with you. The most recent one I think was a very, very powerful moment, the war on Ukraine. I'm not sure when our conversation is going to be aired, but we're just celebrating—marking is more correct—half a year of Russian invasion of Ukraine. And shortly after the invasion, we were challenged and inspired by a partner of mine, James Sternlicht, of the peace department. What can your religious leaders do for Ukraine other than just condemning?

And that led to an initiative we call Faith in Ukraine. Faith in Ukraine. That's also the URL, faithinukraine.com. We had a delegation of 12 religious leaders. They went to Ukraine about six weeks into the war. We had the former Archbishop of Canterbury. We had the head of the Franciscans. We'll get to the Franciscans shortly. We had the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. We had some noted Buddhist sisters from Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh just passed away shortly before then, and more. And we went to a town called Chernivtsi, formerly Czernowitz. And we did the first event that was done there since the breakout of the war in the local theater. It was televised throughout Ukraine. So everyone had the opportunity to see it. The media company we worked with tells us we had a reach of 300 million globally. And it was a visit of solidarity.

It was the first time ever that an interfaith delegation went into a war zone in a show of solidarity. It wasn't a peace mission because it's not our job to make peace with the powers that be right now. But it was our job to comfort, to show friendship, to give hope, to give strategies for coping, to apply the religious wisdom we have to hardship. People are going through hardship. The whole world is going through a certain level of hardship as a consequence. And what is the voice of religion? What messages of encouragement, of solidarity, of overcoming the darkness can we give?

And it was the first time I think a group of religious leaders performed in a theater. I told the leaders, "No long speeches. You're not in your houses of worship. Two minute presentations. Get to the punch." And we orchestrated it and we planned it and we rehearsed it. We got up there and performed and there were choirs that recorded music and a local choir that sang for us. And it was just inspiring, powerful, encouraging. The power of friendship within the group was a testimony and the message we gave was a testimony. And as I look around, I just see the power of friendship built over 20 years that this group is working together, coupled with the wisdom they have, coupled with the ongoing global need. It's a voice we seek and can, and hope we can continue bringing to the world.

Clint Betts

What response did you receive if any from people within Russia to faith in Ukraine, people of faith in Russia?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

None. None. I can't say I had any response from Russia. One of our board members-

Clint Betts

Is that because maybe it was blacked out?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. I don't think people had access to it. I don't think that people had access to it. It wouldn't be something that would be shown. We have two members of our board of world religious leaders who are Russian. One of them was the head of external relations, number two to Patriarch Kirill. And we wrote to him and we said, we had gathered 150 religious leaders worldwide sending a letter to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church of Russia who is very much in cahoots with President Putin, telling that religion should not be weaponized for war and he should bring out other teachings. We got no response.

I turned to my man who's on the board, and we asked for a response. We got no response. I didn't expect to get a response. But sometimes you have to make a protest, even if it's not going to make a difference. Now, he's been demoted. He's been sent to Hungary. Whether it's because he opposed the church's stance on the war or because of internal personal difficulties, I don't know. The other person was the Chief Rabbi of Russia and he walks a very, very fine line. I think all of Orthodox Judaism in the Utah Valley is Chabad. Are you familiar with Chabad? Do you know the movement?

Clint Betts

No, I can't say that I am.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Lubavitch, have you heard the name?

Clint Betts

Yes.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Lubavitch. Lubavitch is Chabad. It's another name. And they are, we used the word missionary earlier. Good sense. They're very missionary. They're active in outreach. They reach out to Jews. They reach out to non-Jews. They try to bring teaching to the world, a phenomenal group. And the chief rabbi of Russia is Chabad and we're very close as friends and I brought 700 Christian pilgrims to his synagogue for an interfaith event in Moscow. He's a wonderful collaborator. But he's got a very fine line that he has to walk. And this has been very, very trying for him and he's coming into a lot of public scrutiny and is going to be very tough. Get a load of this. The day we did the event, I remember now, it was the 12th of April this year was the hundredth birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe of Chabad.

And we were hosted in Ukraine thanks to Chabad. The Chabad rabbi in Chernivtsi really was our point of contact. I included a three minute clip on who the Rebbe was. I felt we had to do that so people just understand who he is, including his preaching of peace and avoidance of bloodshed. And the next thing I know, one of my friends in Utah, Dick Lambert, who's actually coming to meet us next week in Assisi, I'll talk about that later, he was so excited, he went and got a book about him. So we go to Ukraine, we talk about him, and a lawyer in Salt Lake City goes and buys a book on the Rebbe of Lubavitch. That's how the world works today.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. Yeah. Tell us about this delegation you're bringing from Utah. And more broadly, I know you're bringing folks to Sinai.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Right. So we've got two things to talk about. Let's do the Sinai bit first.

Clint Betts

Okay. Yeah.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

So COP 27 is coming up and with it... Today I read in The Guardian, they released a study with new methods of detecting the amount of rising of the oceans due to the melting of the ice cap in Greenland. It's going to be a minimum of 27 centimeters and oceans could rise by meters and now they have new ways of measuring it. The situation is horrifying. And humanity needs to take action and it's having a hard time taking action. Action requires transformation. Transformation requires a change of attitude. Change of attitude requires a change of heart. You can't just change your heart based on numbers. And that raises the question, what's the role of religious leaders in fighting climate change? So there's more than one answer to that because religious leaders have power to make change through how they do their business, how they travel, how they invest. There are multiple answers.

But one answer and the one that's where I think we can contribute to is they can inspire with a spiritual vision, back to that term vision, that others may not be able to inspire with. And that's what religions have done for millennia. Religions change people's hearts, religions change people's attitudes, religions show you how to be in the world. And if today something has gotten out of hand, that's because of those same fundamental attitudes that have gone wrong. And you've asked before, does everybody need to be religious? But in some way, by not living up to the vision of our religions—nd that could be true also for religious people,I'm not saying this doesn't fit the secular religious divide—could also be for religious people. By not living up to the deep messages of our religions, we are destroying society. The planet will exist, but we're destroying the planet as hospitable to humans and therefore humanity's chances for continued flourishing in survival on this planet.

So religions have something to bring by way of change of attitude. So they'll be sitting there in Sharm El Sheikh in November and once again talk about 1.5%, 2%, 1.5%. Who's going to cut back? Who's going to pay? Who's going to compensate? Et cetera. And those conversations are important. And Gutierrez is going to go there and he's going to say it's too late and we have to make a major change. We're already too late. And the world is going to say, "Well, we've been through this before,” because they have been through this the year before in Glasgow with only partial success. I do not make any claim and I have no pretense that our little action is going to make the difference. But we do have to sound a voice.

And because this event is taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, we had the idea of traveling three hours from there and going to Mount Sinai and holding something that's going to touch people's hearts, move them and inspire them in a way that could be conducive to change. So why Mount Sinai? Well, Mount Sinai is where we received God's vision. Back to the term you opened our session with, Mount Sinai is where Moses was to receive the 10 Commandments and the Torah. Mount Sinai is where Elijah, the prophet, Elijah, who is very, very important in LDS teaching and very central to Jewish practice and thought and Christian and Muslim, when things went wrong for Elijah, he undertook a 40 day march to Mount Sinai as it were to receive a new teaching or to receive a new direction. So he returns there to God's mountain to hear God. That's where he hears God and the small still voice.

So that's what we're after, that small, still voice. So we're calling this event Return to Mount Sinai. And what we envision is the following. Not at the top, but just below the top there's an area that's called Elijah’s Garden, which for us as the Elijah Interfaith Institute is fantastic. It's Elijah's garden. It's called Elijah's garden because it's a garden. There's a well there and some vegetation and some people claim the cave where Elijah heard God's voice or went there was there.

The historical facts are not important. And at Elijah's Garden, we're going to do something that as far as I know was first suggested by one of our board members, Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, the first among equals of patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, was then picked up by Pope Francis in his Laudato si'. And I'm sure others have said that as well and it's only my ignorance that I don't know all the people who have had that idea.

But one of the elements that people have considered in terms of environment and climate change has been repentance. If you want to make change, you have to repent. You can't just change. You have to recognize something is wrong. Something's wrong in my attitude, my materialism, my possessiveness, my lack of thought of the other, my lack of seeing the consequences of what I'm doing, let's say rich countries on poor countries. There's many, many things we have to repent in overusing and abusing resources and not being wasteful and being selfish. Plenty to repent. So you repent. So these religious leaders have mentioned the notion of repentance.

No one to date has attempted an interreligious expression of repentance. So going back to Sinai in a ceremony of interreligious repentance for our climate sense as an opening to receive, how can we live better? So in one way, it's a gimmick. In another way, it's very real. And it's very real because if we succeed with God's help and the funding that still has to come into place with realizing this vision, then when there's a break in the serious discussions over that first or second weekend in November, the world's eyes can turn to religious leaders doing something that speaks to humanity from Mount Sinai. I don't know. Clint, does the vision grab you?

Clint Betts

Yes, it's unbelievable. And I want to ask you a couple things.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Let me finish because I interrupted myself.

Clint Betts

Oh yeah, please.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

It was just to say, is it really something that you think the world will pay attention to? Because you represent the world in this conversation. And that leaves the second part of it which is, what are the best teachings we can offer the world? So Sinai had the 10 commandments. What are the 10 best teachings religions can offer the world today? So we're going to convene the Elijah Board of World Religious leaders and pick its brains and ask the members, "What are your best teachings for the world?" And we will come up with, we call it Climate Justice 10 Universal Commandments. So drawn from all religions, what are the best universal commandments we can create for living together on the planet? And that will be the second part of what we do. And God willing, we'll be able to touch people. So that's one important thing on the horizon. Sorry, I interrupted you while interrupting myself.

Clint Betts

No, it's unbelievable. I have two questions and they're probably unrelated, but I'll give them to you and I'll let you respond however you want. One is, why call your organization the Elijah Interfaith Institute? Why is Elijah so important to you? You touched on it a little bit there, but I'd love for you to go a bit deeper on what Elijah means to you and so many other religions. And my second thing is, you said at some point earlier in this conversation that rabbi means teacher to you. And that's very clear that you are a great teacher just in this conversation. It also, as I listen to you speak and the things that you're doing in the world and the important work you're doing in world, the word leader comes to mind. And I wonder, a lot of folks who would be watching this or listening to this are leaders within organizations, companies, and so on. And I wonder if you have any advice or reflections on leadership that may be helpful to them.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Okay. Two important questions. I don't know when this segment of your show is going to air. On September 1st, we've got a webinar basically on this question, why Elijah? Even if your session airs after that, it'll be on our Facebook page of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. Berkeley based scholar Daniel Matt has just written a book called Becoming Elijah. And we're going to do a dialogue between myself and him on the figure of Elijah in all religions. And one of the issues is actually going to be, so why did I name the organization Elijah if I named it? I don't know who named it. And the answer is because Elijah is a figure of transformation of growth recognized in multiple religions. He's an individual or character whose image has been transformed over the ages from the zealot to the harbinger, is that how you pronounce the word? Harbinger of peace to the one who paves the way to Messiah, to one who finds peaceful resolutions to conflict. So he symbolizes commonality, transformation, quest for peace, preparation for Messiah. Everything I believe in.

Clint Betts

That's true.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Is that a good enough answer on that one.

Clint Betts

That's a beautiful answer. And your organization's called the Elijah Interfaith Institute and because he is such an important figure in so many different faiths I just think it's perfect.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Now the other question on leadership, so one of the subjects that we have engaged in has been the future of religious leadership. And there's a book out by that title, a book that grew from the deliberations of the board of world religious leaders and the think tank that supported it. It's called the future of religious leadership. And we have a series that is available at Wipf and Stock Publishers and easily findable on Amazon or Google. If you Google my name and publications, it'll come up. Also, all our publications are listed on the website. So we convened a group of scholars of different religions, and we tried to get to some common denominator on leadership. I could, if you want, read to a kind of conclusion, which is the leader's prayer. And I'm happy to conclude our interview with a prayer and I'm happy to conclude our interview... You give me a two minute signal before the interview is over. It could be a very nice way to sum up that project's message of leadership by reading that leader's prayer if you like.

Clint Betts

That'd be beautiful.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

That'd be a nice way to conclude, with a prayer. I will offer just one insight now by way of reply and I'll leave the rest to that concluding prayer. And that is leadership is service, something the Christians will be very comfortable with, which is the notion of servant leadership and that sense of the leader being there in order to serve others. That's I think one important common insight. And with your permission, I find it personally very inspiring to conclude with a prayer that emerged from a project that we can get to. You'll tell me when I'm almost at the end and then I'll pull it up and I can share that.

Clint Betts

Absolutely. And thank you. That would be unbelievable. Let's talk about this work you're doing with Pope Francis and others on this museum. And again, rabbi, you just do so many incredible things and you're in the mix with so many—I mean, the Dalai Lama, the Pope and so many other important transformational religious leaders. Let's talk about this museum though, because I think it's pretty fascinating.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Thank you. I will say I feel very blessed that I don't know what boredom is. And I'm always growing. I'm always growing internally and externally and through the opportunities and my life, thank God, is one extended blessing. So it goes like this. "We know about friendship because we've spoken about this campaign of making friends across religions." We know about our work with religious leaders. What we don't know is that we not only copyrighted friendship, we also copyrighted hope as part of the vision. And our long-term vision is actually to create HOPE and HOPE is acronym of House of Prayer and Education, HOPE. And that started out as a way of addressing the question of, how can we realize the biblical prophecy in Isaiah 567, "My house will be a house of prayer for all peoples." So someone asked me, "How can you realize?" And I said, "Take the H-O-P of house of prayer, add E for education, House of Prayer and Education, biblical vision brought up to date giving a foretaste of what that future can be.

And that took the shape of a space in Jerusalem co-owned and co-operated by all religions where you would learn about religions, experience prayer, experience company, learn about the other, encounter the other and be transformed. And that could serve as a global headquarters with that kind of transformation. That idea we've been floating around for some time in various places, Salt Lake City included. But it's like it needed the next step. And actually the next step was born initially in Salt Lake City in the offices of Zion Bank no less. I was sitting at a meeting in the offices of Zion Bank. This goes back maybe five years now. And the idea came that we do an interim project. Initially, it was supposed to be in Salt Lake. Corona hit, the idea morphed. I got responses here. I got responses there.

As this thing came through, the interim step is something that gives a forte of the future HOPE Center, but doesn't have that fullness. And it is associated with what is actually our second home, which is the town of Assisi in Italy. Everybody heard about St. Francis of Assisi. I think he's the most famous universal saint if you take Jesus not as a saint. Of course, Jesus, probably more famous. But Jesus for Christian theology doesn't come under the category of saint, he comes under another category. But as saints go, Saint Francis is, I think, the most universally known and appreciated saint. And Assisi which was the town he grew in and where he's buried and the whole city is impregnated with his presence, Assisi has been serving as a symbolic place for interreligious convenings since Pope John Paul the second convened an interreligious prayer gathering in 1986. And then Benedict followed suit and Francis followed suit and religious leaders gather there for prayers for peace and other things.

And the people who know, know. But the visitors who come to Assisi don't know anything about it. It's nowhere scripted into the landscape. And so we were looking at what's an interim project, but also one that has its own self-standing. And gradually through dialogue and through a conversation with a Franciscan monk, the idea really was initially placed in my head by a Franciscan monk who befriended me and I befriended him because I said it's a second home. We actually have a home in Assisi so we're there regularly. So I jokingly refer to myself as chief rabbi of Assisi, which is the best way to be chief rabbi because there's no Jewish community. So I just have to be rabbi of myself and my wife.

Clint Betts

Perfect.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Couldn't be better. Yeah. So the idea crystallized to create one component of the future hope center, which is the museum. And the museum would be a museum on friendship and hope featuring the notion of interreligious friendship with St. Francis as a model based on some specific stories I won't go into now. But as one thing to point out, he never attacked or argued with any religion. He was always offering peace to religions, never ptolemaic, even the age of Ptolemey, let alone in the age of interfaith that we live in. And prayer, which of course is the theme of Jerusalem, being inspired by the prayer of the other and looking at the experience of prayer, the orientation, the attitude to the cosmos, the attitude to nature. He composed that famous prayer Laudato si' which Pope Francis has taken as the name of his ecological encyclical. So this ties into the Sinai thing we spoke about a moment ago and cultivating a feeling for a prayer and the prayer across religions.

We talked earlier about how people move away from religion. The sign if people are close to religion or not is whether they pray. When they lose prayer, they really lose the connection. So not all people who come there are religious, inspiring people to pray. But nowadays the inspiration has to be also to understand the prayer of the other and to be inspired by the prayer of the other. So right across from the Basilica, we're looking at creating this house of friendship and hope as a museum, convening place and headquarters for the friendship movement that I spoke about earlier in Assisi, riding on the wings of or with the blessing of St. Francis and it's received phenomenal response. Within a couple of days of my asking for a letter of endorsement from the Pope, I got it. The Pope by the way wrote a beautiful letter for us on the way to Ukraine. So the Pope was with us in Ukraine, the Pope was with us in this vision of Assisi. Local Bishop, Franciscan community, mayor of Assisi, absolutely everyone is behind this vision, which they feel and I feel can make a huge difference.

If in Assisi, which sees eight million tourists a year, we can create the first of its kind ever museum on prayer and spirituality, the first of its kind ever museum with these contents featured in an interreligious manner, then people can be inspired to take that elsewhere, they can be inspired to carry on the message of friendship elsewhere, they can be inspired then to see, "If this is possible here, we can see how we can do it in Jerusalem." So yeah, the vision gets bigger and bigger and broader and broader.

And it's a great blessing for me to have some of the friends whose friendship I've cultivated over many years now in Salt Lake City come out next week to Assisi with the interest in maybe, maybe, I'll have to keep my expectations low but my hopes high, finding a way of also supporting and getting us through the various stages that we need to in order to make it happen. And maybe they will carry the full burden. Maybe others listening to this podcast will. One way or another. You spoke earlier about faith. It's about faith. It's about prayer. But I think this vision really comes from God. I think its time is there. And I think Assisi is a beautiful and inspirational place to take everything that I've grown over 25 years and take it to the next level.

Clint Betts

It's unbelievable. And rabbi, we're running short on time here. But we got to have you back on because I feel like you and I could talk forever and the things that you're working on deserve deep discussion.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. But can your audience listen to me forever?

Clint Betts

Yes, they could. I can promise you that. And I would love for you to end this in a prayer. Did you say it's called the leadership prayer, the leader's prayer?

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. Yeah. That's what it's called.

Clint Betts

All right. Hang on. I have to take off the hat. I know that that's something that we're supposed to do.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Yeah. It really depends. Jews put on the hat, Christians take off the hat.

Clint Betts

Yeah. I know.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

But I'll tell you one thing, Clint, I take off my hat to you.

Clint Betts

Thank you, Alon. I appreciate that.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Oh Lord, we stand before you not merely as individuals, but as members of communities and as children of a common humanity. We recognize that in truth, we are no better than those we seek to serve and who have appointed us to our offices. We as leaders in our communities are making our way toward greater understanding, fuller love and deeper humility. We are making our way toward you. As we advance, we recognize that we have a special role to play for the benefit of others. We are called to remind others of the goal. But for this, we must remember it ourselves. We are called to embody the faith, but for this, we must ourselves be filled with faith. We are called to model the highest ideals. But for this, we must not lose sight of them. We therefore ask you make us worthy instruments in the service of a higher truth.

Let us remember that whatever we're able to accomplish, we do so not by our own power, but by yours. Help us to keep our sight on the highest goals and not to compromise them in our weakness. Protect us and help us to not succumb to the temptations of power, greed and ego. Let us embody a spirit of true service to all, let our hearts be full of compassion to all, let the spirit of true humility inform all our actions. Oh Lord, may we be instruments of unity within our individual religions and between our diverse traditions. May we be inspired by divine wisdom as we navigate and guide our faiths and our faithful. May we be beacons of useful, effective, and living knowledge that nourishes the souls of the faithful and guides them in their spiritual lives. May we be fully transparent to you, recalling it every step that it is not we who are guiding our traditions, but it is you, our Lord.

Clint Betts

Rabbi, I appreciate you ending this interview and this discussion with that prayer. You are a leader amongst leaders. Thank you for what you're doing in the world. And let's keep in touch and let's have you back on as all these things continue to manifest themselves.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Thank you, Clint. I'm very grateful to you.

Clint Betts

Thank you so much.

Daily Newsletter

For Leaders

Subscribe to the newsletter read by the world's most influential CEOs.