I am so disheartened lately. Whenever I speak up on politics or the status of things going on in the world, I am too often met with venom… and often from both sides. I try so gingerly to walk the tight rope of being objective and in the middle… but then both sides accuse me of cajoling the other… not speaking the truth and on and on.
I envision myself as a rational centrist, a pragmatic thinker who will gladly call out BS and injustice, but I do try to see both sides… I do try to live the words of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, and truly listen with my ears and not my position. It is not easy, but I do what I can.
While I was able to avoid any unpleasantness at the Thanksgiving table, it was because no news stories, politics, or dangerous conversations took place. It made for a very pleasant afternoon and evening… but I am not normally one to keep quiet. This was not really the time nor the place, so obviously that made things easier, but still… I know many family and friends who did not escape their celebrations without verbal injuries and insults.
When did we become so angry? When did the wonderful art of respectful debate, so central to Jewish ideology and conversations, go so awry? But also, when did people become so quiet… so silent?
I am sure you have seen this quote from German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller many, many times over the years, but I think it is something we should remind ourselves from time to time. Silence must not and cannot be an option!
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
So what does this have to do with Jewish learning and Judaism, you may ask.
One of the best parts of Judaism, for me, has been the debate… the deep questioning… the prodding and exploring of an idea or text.
When I was growing up, all I ever got from my Rabbi was “that’s just the way it is.” Not exactly inspiring for a kid… In fact, that can be rather dismissive and infuriating. It is probably what kept me from fully embracing my own Judaism.
But then I went to Israel and became friends with Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld. When I had issues or concerns, instead of dismissing them with a “that’s just the way it is”, he got excited about my passion… about my desire to truly connect and understand. He wanted me and prodded me to dig deeper… to keep moving forward… He knew my intentions were good…
I was not asking as a way out, but as a way in.
This is how I approach Judaism now, and while I am playing a lot of catch up, I am genuinely intrigued and inspired to learn as much as I can… but to not only learn it, but live it… in other words, to have it envelop me and become a real part of me.
We do this… or at least I do, by seeking the absolute truth… by questioning and speaking out.
When I post something troubling on the dreaded Facebook, or bring something up at a class, it is because I am genuinely concerned… because I have very real fears… because I want to make sure that we are ALL standing up for the same things. Victory should not come at any cost, because eventually the way you won… the way you crossed the finish line will come back and get you.
Leaving morals and ethics on the sidelines is not the Jewish way.
There are certain examples I want to set for my daughter… for my family and friends…
There are certain norms and behaviors I do not want to see blown up and destroyed.
Judaism gave the world the Ten Commandments… the Mitzvot… laws and ideas and philosophies to help live a rich, meaningful and fulfilled life. To dismiss someone out of hand, without honoring their point of view and opinion is NOT the Jewish way. To win at all costs, and misbehave along the journey is NOT the Jewish way… and neither is staying silent when you see things being done, or white washed or pushed to the side for political expediency.
Living life is really pretty easy… and at the same time, not easy at all… but the very Jewish ideal of ALWAYS DOING THE RIGHT THING… not just sometimes… but ALWAYS… is pretty good golden rule of thumb!
Let us debate and discuss with respect and love… let us question without impunity and without fear of retribution. Let us come together with good intentions and for the good of the world. This is where Tikkun Olam really starts… not in silence… but in quiet and thoughtful thought, good intention and loud and powerful deed. Let us all remember that each and every one of us wears those very three garments of the soul… thoughts… words… and actions…
Silence is not an option.
We are mostly the same, all of us. Let us all remember that.