Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
It seems that we have entered a new era. Taking in the news, it seems to be an open season on hate against just about everyone. In my own Facebook bubble, I have noticed more and more language of “us and them.” More and more hostility, less and less generosity of spirit, and a torrent of finger pointing with a heaping dose of passive-aggressive insults thrown in. It might be easy to say that all of this is a result of the election of Donald Trump who very liberally used insults and blame throughout his campaign. While he could play a major role in quieting the storm of hate and anger, President-Elect Trump is not the cause nor is he to blame. This kind of animosity is not born out of one election cycle. This is the kind of anger, bigotry, racism and xenophobia that has grown, festered and flourished in the dark corners of society for quite some time.
About six weeks ago during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the southeast coast of the United States where I live was hit by hurricane Matthew. My community was lucky enough to greet Matthew at low tide largely sparing this area from terrible destruction and possibly loss of life. When all was over and I returned home from evacuating, it seemed everything was fine, but then a smell, a damp musty foul smell, began to emerge from my daughter’s room. One night I decided I could not stand it any longer and pulled up the old, graying carpet covering the floor. Underneath I found a soft fuzzy sea of mold. Some fresh and some old, but mold nonetheless. While the moisture from the hurricane had made me aware that there was an issue, it was clear that the problem had been there for a long time. Left unchecked, it would have continued to grow in the darkness being an even bigger problem in the future.
I have two choices. Put a new rug on the old mold and hide it, which seems like an obviously poor choice. Or clean it up and be done with it. Clearly I will do the latter.
And we in this country are no different. Whatever you may think about how we got to this moment in our history, this is the moment we are in. People in this nation, this great nation, feel frustrated and scared. And those feelings are being manifest by identifying a scapegoat and sending her out of our midst. It is not an unreasonable thing to do. We even find the story of The Scapegoat in the Torah. And we have two choices. Go back to how it used to be with this animosity simmering just beneath the surface. Or go forward and move past the hate, move past the prejudice, eradicate the bigotry and be better than we ever were before.
This is not easy work. It depends, I believe, on everyone and I mean everyone first being willing to give up the blame game. Think carefully about the language used when posting on social media. Look critically at an argument to move beyond the knee-jerk reaction of whose fault something is and get to the deeper, more complicated issues at play. They are always there. Then let’s put energy into fixing the issues in our nation that are leaving so many feeling so low. Then we must look very carefully at ourselves. Who do I prejudge? Who do I make assumptions about? Who do I think I know but I don’t? Now go out and connect with the people we believe or even have been taught to hate. That’s scary and hard and awful and critical if anything is really going to change here in our nation.
Otherwise, if we are not willing to clean up the mess, remove the ugliness within and between us, we might as well just put a new rug on top and leave the hate to thrive in the darkness.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.