Jewish organizations, along with other faith-based and secular social justice organizations, have been ablaze with statements and action alerts during the early stages of the Trump Administration. Efforts began soon after the November election, with some Jewish groups condemning Stephen Bannon’s appointment to Chief White House Strategist and Senior Counselor. Statements have proliferated in recent months, particularly in response to President Trump’s executive orders banning refugees. Jewish groups also have responded with alarm to President Trump’s budget proposal, both for its evisceration of foreign aid and for its “devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our communities who receive publicly-funded services.” Jewish organizations also have been vocal in criticizing the draconian implications of the Republican “repeal and replace” health care bill.
I think we could all use a little more mercy and compassion. Day after day, the news is filled with fighting, chaos, and tragedy. It can be disheartening and dejecting. We may even find ourselves at odds with the people we love who may feel differently about politics or religion, or who simply interpret an event or action in a different way. It may be difficult to remain civil in the face of conflict, but this week’s Torah portion reminds us that we are capable of great mercy and understanding that can help us respond to trying situations.
Last week, as I began my annual exploration of Jewish ethical wisdom on the use of speech, or lashon hara, I found myself confronted with a response from some high school aged students that I hadn’t expected. I asked if they knew what ‘trolling‘ was. One of them responded, ‘trolling is fun. Its fun to get a rise out of someone.’ Upon further probing, the response was qualified. ‘Only if its someone you know well; a friend that you are just teasing, and you know that you haven’t crossed a line.’ ‘How do you know?’ I asked. The answer to that question wasn’t so clear.
Over the past several months, I have been given a daily gift. It doesn’t have a monetary value, nor does it come in a big box, but rather it is one of those intangible gifts that just keeps on giving. Recently, I was invited to be part of a group of rabbis through CLAL who are seeking to blend the science of Positive Psychology through Human Flourishing with religion, specifically Judaism, for something now called the Flourishing Project. Our goal is to see if an acute awareness of one’s own Character Strengths, particularly our Signature Strengths, as well as the strengths of those around us, might help us to live better, more fulfilling and thriving lives.
I have been debating this question a lot over the past month. The Jewish Community Center where my daughter attends dance class and where I (sometimes) work out has received two bomb threats. The JCC where I worked for almost eight years has received several more. I feel like it is only a matter of time until my daughters Jewish Day School gets a call and she and her friends are evacuated from the building.
Today is International Women’s Day, and we have a confluence, as we sometimes do, between secular observances and our Jewish calendar. For just three days after International Women’s Day we celebrate Purim, a holiday in which the accomplishments of women are pivotal to the story.
The following letter to the Palestinian people shall never be sent. After at least three rewritings and endless discussions among my colleagues, it has been concluded that it would never have the effect we had hoped. Its message would be misused and distorted by the traumatized Palestinian people whose hearts it was meant to open. And the backlash it would cause in my Jewish community among those who have come back to settle the hills of Judea after our 2000 year exile, would be fierce and unforgiving. Traumatized as we are by our own terrible pain and loss, instinctively and derisively we lash out at anyone who expresses empathy for the pain of the other. My community would accuse me of lack of empathy for our own, of desecrating the memory of our dead. Letters are not the way. Only direct human contact can begin to heal the wounds.
“He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk humbly with your God”