Rabbi Wayne Franklin honored for lifetime achievement

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As part of an evening celebrating people who have acted as bridges to link diverse communities, Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin of Temple Emanu-El in Providence received a lifetime achievement award on Oct. 4 from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

Franklin was singled out by the council for his “more than three decades of service as a faith leader, educator and advocate for civic dialogues.” Council board chair Touba Ghadessi said in giving him the award: “We will find common ground” through such work.

The Honorary Chairs' Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities came at the council’s 2018 “Celebration of the Humanities” event that was themed “Bridge.” With nearly 300 people on hand, including Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, council Executive Director Elizabeth Francis praised the honorees as “people who contribute so much to the humanity and civility of the state.”

Franklin, who will retire next summer after 38 years as senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, has led numerous dialogue initiatives in Rhode Island, involving Jews working with many other faith groups, including Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindu, and Buddhist, as well as chairing a Providence Youth Engagement task force.

“One does not dialogue alone,” Franklin said in accepting the award. “Interfaith dialogue requires people who are deeply committed to their own religious faiths, but who share open minds and open hearts.

“Meaningful dialogue is possible among people who are eager to learn from one another and who are interested in understanding one another. Dialogue requires mutual respect, rather than trying to convince others of the correctness of one’s position.”

The council honored four others with awards. Ray Rickman and Robb Dimmick received the Innovation Award for their Stages of Freedom, which creates programming about black Rhode Island life and culture for a wide audience, and provides inner-city youth with cultural opportunities. Taylor Polites won the Public Humanities Scholar Award for his work as a writer, educator and researcher. Francis Parra, co-founder and artistic director of ECAS Theater, Rhode Island’s only Spanish-language theater, was given the Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities.

In closing his remarks, Franklin cited Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who taught, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the most important thing is not to be afraid.”

Franklin said, “Our road through life can feel like a very narrow bridge. We never know what lies ahead, or what might topple us from the bridge. Many people fear that if they engage with people whose beliefs differ from their own, they may become unmoored from their foundations and be compromised in the faith.”

Yet, Franklin added, “that bridge building can make us more secure, and less likely to experience calamity…the bridges we build help us overcome our fears of all that’s different and unfamiliar. I hope that our collective efforts will continue to lift up and affirm the human spirit, so that we can traverse the bridge of life with confidence, in harmony and in peace.”

NOEL RUBINTON is a writer based in Providence.