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.
Just a few days ago – not even an eyelash-width of time in the human experiential timeline, the earth – or at least our nation – tilted a bit off its axis. Or at least that is when we were once again struck head on with a 2×4 plank – the full-blown reality of hatred in our nation that lives so breathtakingly close to the surface. Of course in some areas and for some people more than others, it is on daily display, vacillating between full-blown outrage and shrinking back into its fetid hole.
Sometimes you can tell when it will surface, and sometimes… not. And yet, we tend to be surprised when it flares up as it did in Charlottesville. Why were we surprised? How can we have been shocked after seemingly countless years of outrageous pain, denial, bias, bigotry, intolerance, and hatred?
It is mind-numbingly remarkable that we were shocked, especially as the solar eclipse took place within days of the Charlottesville horror. We were fully prepared for the celestial spectacle that took our nation by storm! People traveled hundreds of miles to witness it, gathering on street corners, sharing special eclipse glasses and pinhole projection boxes.
I find the disconnect striking. On one hand, it may seem that we may be willing, as individuals and in some groups, to stand in celestially-inspired awe of the machinations of creation and our infinitesimally minute place in it all – and at the next moment find ourselves in the grips of fury, fear and a flood of other emotions.
In my less fine moments, I count myself among the furious. I want the hatred stopped – and I want the haters stopped, even if they cannot be “cured” of their insularity. At more spiritually evolved times, I want us all to stand in incredulous, humbling awe under the stars, gawking at the crown of the sun that our own weak eyes cannot otherwise discern, and then see that light in one another’s eyes.
Is this, too, a disconnect? Maybe. Or perhaps it is two sides of the same coin: the awe that inspires love cannot tolerate hate, and the hatred that inspires fear cannot live in the presence of love. The powerful force of anger cannot be denied or ignored because left undirected toward the positive it can consume all in its path.
And I know the fury is out there. And I feel it will not be long before it responds to the shrill and odious dog-whistle of the lie of white supremacy and runs nearly unfettered through our streets and neighborhoods. I know this because of all the headlines we have both seen laying bare the reality of institutionalized discrimination and others condemning the right to gather and protest. And I know this because my 8-year-old granddaughter recently (before Charlottesville) received a note from a friend telling her that she let the friend down because she is a “jue.” [sic].
I know because of a while back, I stopped wearing my kippah in public after receiving a number of harsh and frankly ignorant and sometimes hurtful comments. And I know because I now feel absolutely compelled to wear it again. It seems to create a nearly magnetic field for challenging conversations, and also wonderful exchanges. I am not doing it to be a lightning rod, but rather, to be a light-bearer, a teacher, a source of reassurance.
In the words of Sting, “There’s a little black spot on the sun” up there. And there is one on my head. Both for the same purpose – to help make it possible to see the otherwise invisible light.
We have just begun the month of Elul, and in our collective consciences, we have already heard the shofar blast, calling us to soul-searching as we anticipate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Far more importantly, it is ours to consider if we can live within the disconnect between the reality of hatred and the peace we long for- and to determine how we will use the power of our faith and awe of our infinite creativity, and the extraordinary gift of our breath and strength to be agents of positive change.
Pronounced: KEE-pah or kee-PAH, Origin: Hebrew, a small hat or head covering that Orthodox Jewish men wear every day, and that other Jews wear when studying, praying or entering a sacred space. Also known as a yarmulke.
Pronounced: sho-FAR or SHO-far, Origin: Hebrew, a ram’s horn that is sounded during the month of Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kippur. It is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, in reference to its ceremonial use in the Temple and to its function as a signal-horn of war.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: yohm KIPP-er, also yohm kee-PORE, Origin: Hebrew, The Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, with Rosh Hashanah, one of the High Holidays.