Golf. A sport usually reserved for the hoighty toighty, and/or generally older crowd. A sport where people ride in little carts and get out of them to whack a tiny plastic ball into a tiny plastic cup.
Of course, if you’re someone like me, a native of Florida who grew up surrounded by the sport, you just might fall in love with it at a young age. (I received my first new set of golf clubs when I became Bar Mitzvah!)
When I go golfing, I usually pull up to the parking lot, lace up my spikes, and immediately feel insignificant. Why? My little Jetta was several years older, and thousands of dollars cheaper, than the BMWs and Maseratis that occupied the spaces around me in my former locales (South Florida when I was growing up, then Southern California when I was in rabbinical school).
But then I moved to the South. The vehicles in the parking lot changed. And…
I STILL felt insignificant.
Not because of my car’s value, but now, due to its stature. The sheer size of the vehicles surrounding me was intimidating. Liberties and Tundras and Blazers, oh my!
As a rabbi who spends many weekends on the road, I try and sneak in a round of golf on a local Southern course wherever I find myself. (Full disclosure, I cannot consistently break 90.) Most recently, after a great weekend at a synagogue in Jackson, Tennessee, I had the realization that I was surrounded by trucks! It felt like every vehicle parked nearby was a Ford F-150, a Jeep Wrangler, or something even bigger.
Awestruck by this, I literally began counting cars, discovering that 13 out of 21 vehicles (a whopping 62%!!!) were trucks or SUVs. My initial reaction was “Is this the status symbol in this area? It’s not how quickly your Porsche can accelerate to 60 miles per hour, but how what pound-feet of torque your Chevy has?”
Then it occurred to me that these golfers might live a different lifestyle – the kind that requires a different vehicle. After all, my father, a plant facilities manager at a North Georgia summer camp, has not one but TWO trucks. He uses them to carry two-by-fours, potted plants, and all manner of large items returning from one of his daily (sometimes hourly) trips to the hardware store. His vehicle isn’t about status, it’s about function.
Maybe some of my ideas about golf, and golfers, need some adjusting. Plenty of people down here love the game that I enjoy so much, no matter what any of us drive. Maybe our region dictates our driving choice more than our hobbies do.
But whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of trucks around these parts, and not just at the golf course. I counted 21 trucks/SUVs out of 29 vehicles in an airport lot the other day. It’s a phenomenon – but what the phenomenon indicates is still something to wonder about…
Maybe I’ll chat about this with my fellow golfers out on the course at the Delta Jewish Golf Open this weekend.
Do you notice the vehicles around you in different settings? Ever had any revelations while “counting cars”?
Picture this: a really mean kid.
A kid who spends each day at school calling others names, like fat and loser. He chooses specific targets to publicly humiliate. He excludes people from the lunch table where their own friends sit, getting other kids to “vote out” someone who was once their friend, which they all do for fear of becoming the next target. His behavior is documented, but his parents take no responsibility, and the school needs more concrete evidence before they can suspend him. He faces no consequences, despite behavior that is hurtful, harmful and unacceptable.
In fact, that same year, he stands on the bimah and is welcomed with open arms as an adult in the Jewish community. His bullying is known to many, but he is given another title: Bar Mitzvah.
In most congregations, to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there are many requirements to fulfill. A students must attend x number of services, master the prayers, learn Torah and haftarah portions, and write a speech about what he/she has learned during this process. We ask that students adhere to the guidelines that Judaism provides for living a moral and ethical life. But what about the children who go against what the Torah instructs us to do? If a student is a known bully, do we ignore that as long as his prayers are memorized and his speech pays lip service to kindness and being a good Jewish adult?
Judaism instructs us clearly that it is a sin to shame another person. Many Jewish children’s first lesson is the Golden Rule: love your neighbor as yourself. And if you do something wrong, you HAVE to make it right. The Jewish system of teshuvah, repentance, provides explicit guidelines instructing us how to make right our wrongs. The essential step of teshuvah is taking responsibility and saying sorry for your actions.
When someone converts to Judaism we conduct a Beit Din (mini jury) as part of the conversion ceremony, to determine if the candidate for conversion is ready and that her intentions are good ones. What would it look like if we had a similar vetting for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah student? What if our clergy and tutors interviewed and even convened a Beit Din with their B’nai Mitzvah students before they began working with them? What would that look like? Would it involve other children – the peers of the bully?
Perhaps part of Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation should be letters of recommendation, in which the recommenders needed to answer some pointed questions about the student’s behavior and character. These recommendations could come from teachers, peers, community members. We could ask the Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates to answer questions in an essay that describes their character and intentions.
Does it seem extreme? Consider this story.
Recently, a high school coach from Utah suspended his entire football team because he caught wind that some of the players were involved in cyber-bullying. Those of us in the South know that you DON’T mess with football – but this coach did. His brave gesture was so against the norm that it made national news. This coach made examples of his players, showing that being a good person is the main requirement for any life experience and if this requirement is not met, then additional experiences and privileges are taken away. The football players could earn back their spot on the team through participation in community service.
This act not only had a direct consequence on the players but also offered a public message to the students that had been mistreated that they mattered, and that people were there to help them.
If a coach can do it, why can’t a rabbi? Or a teacher? We’re the ones who have the chance to show all kids they matter, and maybe even through teshuvah and attention, turn a bully into a mensch. What a mitzvah that could be.
Do you think bullies should be allowed on the bimah? Should a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student’s treatment of others be considered?
Now that the Jewish fall holidays have been celebrated, I have had some time to reflect on some of the meaningful moments of late summer and early autumn. This musing was inspired in part by a coworker, who sent me a screenshot of our Facebook page, showing the interesting juxtaposition of a picture of me and my fellow clergy speaking in Jackson… with a picture of another preacher and another rabbi preparing to speak to a crowd 50 years ago.
August marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. All around the United States, the diverse people that continually make this nation so great gathered to celebrate and remember that momentous day through song and prayer, through words and fellowship. I was part of the celebration here in Jackson. As I stood on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol, beside my friend and fellow Mississippi clergyman Bishop Ronnie Crudup, to honor the steps that had been made and those still remaining in the march towards true equality, I pondered that day from 50 years ago.
What would it have felt like to stand before the gathered assembly of 250,000? What exchanges may have taken place between those who waited to speak? Did Dr. Rabbi Yoachim Prinz say anything to Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as Prinz warmed up the crowd to hear King’s dream?
Given the collective spirit of God’s will present that day, they must have. For it was that same spirit that brought me and Bishop Crudup together this summer.
“I remember the original March,” Bishop Crudup shared. “I was seven and my mother was active in the Civil Rights Movement.”
“Aren’t you frustrated then that – as a society – we haven’t covered much ground?” I asked. “After all, right here in Mississippi, we’re still miles away from reaching a state in which every citizen – regardless of race or religion, gender or sexual orientation – has equal access to the same opportunities.”
Bishop Crudup grew reflectively silent. Then he said something I’ll never forget: “You may not see it. But, from the vantage point of my years, I do. You and I can stand together, dine together, work together. So, the work of changing laws is over; what remains is the challenge of changing hearts and minds.”
I nodded, knowing that this task was going to be as – if not more – difficult than the first task. But those who marched on Washington are passing us the baton. If we wish to move our society forward we can no longer simply march on Washington; we must also march over to our neighbors, and continue these important conversations.