Shalom, the Rabbi and the High School Principal

John C. Rankin (2014)

In 1993 I addressed 1,000 students at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut on “Clergy Awareness Day.” The event, headed up by the Jewish principal, highlighted 19 different clergy in a morning full of informational seminars. And for some reason, I was asked to give the keynote address, and I spoke about unalienable rights and religious liberty.

In the luncheon that followed with the principal and clergy, I sat next to a rabbi who was sitting next to the principal. The rabbi mused to his fellow Jew, “I am amazed that so few people in my congregation know the meaning of shalom. They think it only means ‘peace,’ and is merely a form of greeting.”

The principal appeared caught off guard, so I interjected: “Shalom means integrity and wholeness, of which peace is a cognate.” The rabbi turned to me in amazement and quipped, “How is it that a goy (a Gentile) knows what shalom means when my Jewish congregants do not!”

And yes, in the vernacular, shalom is a cheapened word, not unlike the Arabic sala’am which means peace in the sense of an absence of conflict. But the Hebrew shalom is far more dynamic.