Challenging Washington’s Oldest Jewish Congregation 1
ON THE EVENING OF November 8, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the Washington Hebrew Congregation, led by Rabbi Abram Simon, at the Eighth Street Temple in the nation’s capital. One month earlier, he had spoken to a similar Reform congregation at the Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, asking them to consider that just as the Jewish prophets had reclaimed a lost people and turned them into a mighty society, so too had Jesus and Muhammad. His approach in Washington was similar, though this time around his argument was met with less enthusiasm. …
‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent a few minutes preparing his audience for the next phase of the argument. He asked them to be “just and fair in your judgment of the following statements.” He then proceeded to articulate the accomplishments of Jesus, going so far as to ask: “Were it not for Jesus Christ, would the Bible, the Torah have reached this land of America? Would the name of Moses be spread throughout the world?”
“This produced a stir among the people,” Agnes Parsons noted in her account of the evening. She states that Rabbi Simon made an effort through the translator, Dr. Fareed, to stop the address. Mahmúd-i-Zarqání, one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretaries, wrote that the people seated near the pulpit made signs that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s time was up. …
Agnes Parsons telephoned Rabbi Simon the next morning and invited him to visit with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Later that evening, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a small gathering about the conversation that had transpired between the two men. He had told Rabbi Simon that Jews should be proud of Jesus, a “mighty personage” that they had, in fact, given to the world. “When you express your glory and honor in the recollection of Christ,” he told the Rabbi, “rest assured that the Christians will shake your hands in fellowship.”
Rabbi Simon eventually concurred. But he asked one thing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Cannot you tell the Christians to love us a little bit more?”
The Journey East: Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Baltimore 2
Saturday night, November 9, the friends held a banquet at Rauscher’s Hall. In the center of the room the tables were arranged in a figure nine and decorated with flowers. The walls were hung with flags, festoons, lanterns, and signs, with the Greatest Name above them. To the three hundred people at the banquet Mason Remey read a paper congratulating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and assuring Him of their obedience and renunciation. After they sang, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá prayed and told everyone to begin eating. While they ate, He walked among them distributing candy and flowers and applying attar of roses. When He finished, the friends again sang songs. Then He spoke to them concerning the living of a Bahá’í life, and afterward they again burst into song.
Saturday, November 9, 1912 3
The Master called on the Jewish rabbi, showered him with kindness and countless blessings, and spoke to him regarding peace and harmony among the Jews, Christians and Muslims as well as the need for respect for the leaders of each other’s religions. The Master said:
“Whenever these people mention each other’s leaders with due reverence then all sufferings and contentions shall cease and instead of hatred there will be love and instead of enmity and disunity there will be harmony and affection. This is my purpose.”
The Master continued to speak in this vein with the rabbi, who left His presence with humility and respect.
Several distinguished persons visited the Master on the second floor of Mrs Parsons’s home, to whom He spoke about various spiritual and important issues. The eternal bounties poured forth like refreshing rain, beautifying the gardens of the hearts and causing the world of the spirit to triumph and to overflow with glad tidings.
In the evening the band of lovers observed the Feast of the Covenant with a magnificent banquet in one of the city’s largest halls. The sounds of their congratulations and praises created a festive and beautiful celebration. Large tables were arranged in the center of the hall in the shape of the figure nine. At the head of the tables was the Master’s chair, on two sides were the chairs of His companions, while the remaining chairs were occupied by the friends. The tables were decorated with flowers and other ornaments and the doors and walls were decorated with screens, flags, festoons, lanterns and banners. Above all of these was the symbol of the Greatest Name. More than three hundred guests were present, apart from those serving as hosts. Almost everyone at the banquet was in formal attire and their attention focused on the Master.
As soon as the Master arrived they all sang with one voice a song in praise of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. When He had taken His seat, Mr Remey stood in the center of the hall facing the Master and devoutly read a paper, afterwards congratulating the Master on behalf of the friends and assuring Him of their obedience and renunciation of the world. Before eating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rose and recited the following prayer:
“He is God! O Lord! We are assembled here in the utmost love and are turned toward Thy Kingdom. We seek none other but Thee and desire not but Thy good pleasure.
“O Lord! Make this food heavenly and make those assembled here of the hosts of Thy Supreme Concourse so that they may become life-giving and the cause of the enlightenment of the world of man, that they may arise to guide all the peoples of the world.
“Thou art the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the Forgiving and the Kind.”
He then invited everyone to begin their dinner, saying, ‘Tonight I myself wish to serve the friends of God.’ He therefore made several rounds, distributing sweets and flowers and anointing each person with attar of rose. When the Master completed one round, the friends sang songs of praise to the accompaniment of the piano. After supper, the Master rose and spoke about the preeminence and distinction of the gatherings of the friends of God, saying that the actions and services of the people of Bahá would be everlasting. This gave further encouragement to the friends to burst enthusiastically into wonderful songs and melodies, giving renewed joy to the hearts and to the souls a new delight. This was one of those great gatherings that demonstrate the majesty and power of the Center of the Covenant.
The Master then went into another room where a number of people were granted private interviews. Among them was a gentleman who had lost both legs in a railway collision and wore artificial limbs. To him the Master said:
“Mutilation of the body brings no harm to the soul. This is one of the proofs of the immortality of the soul, for death consists of the change and dispersion of the members and elements of the body. As a bodily change does not bring about change in the soul, it is evident that the soul is unchanging and imperishable.”
When the Consul General of Turkey and others came to see Him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to them about the Universal House of Justice.
Talk at Bahá’í Banquet, Rauscher’s Hall, Washington, D. C. 4
It is my fond and fervent hope through the favor of God that this present meeting may be instrumental in ushering in the day when the standard of the oneness of the world of humanity shall be held aloft in America. May it be the first real foundation of international peace, having for its object universal service to man. May it be divine philanthropy without distinctions or differentiations in humankind. May you consider all religions the instruments of God and regard all races as channels of divine manifestation. May you view mankind as the sheep of God and know for a certainty that He is the real Shepherd. Consider how this kind and tender Shepherd cares for all His flock; how He leads them in green pastures and beside the still waters. How well He protects them! Verily, this Shepherd makes no distinctions whatsoever; to all the sheep He is equally kind. Therefore, we must follow the example of God and strive in pathways of goodwill toward all humanity. May we endeavor with heart and soul to reconcile the religions of the earth, unify the peoples and races and blend the nations in a perfect solidarity. May we uphold the flag of international agreement and enkindle a light which shall illumine all regions with the radiance of oneness. May our purposes centralize in the earnest desire of attaining the good pleasure of God, and may our supreme energies be directed to welding together the human household. Let us not regard our own respective capacities; nay, rather, let us regard forever the favors and bounties of God. The drop must not estimate its own limited capacity; it must realize the volume and sufficiency of the ocean, which ever glorifieth the drop. The tender and simple seed, solitary though it may be, must not look upon its own lack of power. Nay, rather, its attention must ever be directed to the sun, in the rays of which it finds life and quickening; and it must ever consider the downpour of the cloud of mercy. For the bounty of the cloud, the effulgence and heat of the sun and the breath of the vernal zephyrs can transform the tiny seed and develop it into a mighty tree. And may you remember that a single infinitesimal atom in the ray of the sun through a shining beam of the solar energy becomes glorified and radiant.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Sockett, Robert. “Challenging Washington’s Oldest Jewish Congregation.” 239 Days in America, 9 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/09/challenging-washingtons-oldest-jewish-congregation/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 180. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=9#section231 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 420. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/31#965527041 ↩