Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.

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And Kagan On the Other Hand?

Kagan scares everyone, liberal and conservative alike, except the President who, we presume, knows who he is nominating. Politics anyone?

So after yesterday’s post and its idealistic rhetoric, let’s talk politics.  Religion aside there is a whole other conversation going on; although the conversation about her being Jewish seems pretty loud.  Generally speaking you hear lots of grumbling from conservatives if there is a liberal paper trail, or at least one they can interpret as even marginally liberal.  And sometimes you hear grumbling from conservatives when, as now, there is virtually no paper trail, although that is not particularly common.  What is unusual, as far as I can tell (and I am not an historian of these sorts of things so feel free to correct me), is that liberals are now grumbling because there is no paper trail. 

There are whispered rumors that she is secretly much more conservative than we lefties would like, hiring so-called conservatives onto the faculty at harvard and allegedly adopting Bush-Cheney ideals in memos about Guantanamo.  National Public Radio tonight quoted a memo tonight that Kagan wrote when she was in the Clinton White House recommending that Clinton approve or support legislation banning partial birth abortion with exceptions only for rape, incest and the life of the mother, an obviously controversial position depending on your vantage point.  That, for sure, is a discussion for another time but what is clear is that everyone is scared of Kagan because nobody really knows where she stands. 

BUT… do we really believe that Obama or his crew have not asked her some of these questions?  Do we really believe that Obama is nominating her with absolutely no clue of her position on important issues, or at least her inclinations?  I find that mind bogglingly naive.  As I wrote yesterday, we have seen many appointees change considerably in their views from where we thought they started as their years of service progressed.  Nevertheless, knowing very well the judicial temperature on the current Supreme Court, and knowing very well whose chair he is filling, it seems impossible to me that there have not been some very serious, very intense and very private conversations between the President and Kagan.

So anti-semitism aside, religious, racial or gender “majorities” aside, the politics have to be in play.  That’s what we in America are all about.  So ideally we expect the scholar, the thinker, the ultimate lawyer, but can you have that and your ideological favority too?  Don’t know, stay tuned.

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Elena Kagan and Anti Semitism On the Rise

Elena Kagan is nominated to the Supreme Court and anti-semitism rears its ugly head in American. Constitutional and intellectual considerations are less important than the religious makeup of the Court.

In the last few days I have read more anti-semitic trash than I can wrap my head around.  Everywhere I look there are articles about the fact that the appointment of Elena Kagan will, if she’s confirmed, result in a Supreme Court made up entirely of Jews and Catholics.  The first comment I heard about it was from my Rabbi several weeks ago.  I thought it was interesting and so did he.  He spoke of diversity and history, education and curiousity and the Jewish legacy of questioning and learning.  He most specifically did not speak of any idea that somehow the Court would be “skewed” or manipulated as a result of the religious makeup of the Court.  I am shocked that many of the comments I have read have been in Jewish publications! First, I should say that I am a lawyer by training and I spent most of my working life as a public defender; whose primary job, I believe, is to defend the fundamental principles contained in our beautiful constitution.  I believe deeply in the freedoms embodied there and that they comprise the essential safeguards of our society, the first and last protection from unchecked power, often kown as fascism.  Next, I believe that those who serve as jurists in our Federal Court system generally feel the same way.  Often they share different beliefs about how best to interpret the constitution which, like the Torah, should be a living document, interpreted to be relevant in the modern world.  What constitutes judicial activism is a controversy that has gone on for decades; centuries?  And that debate is a healthy one, the different views keep our system in balance.  Those who serve on the Supreme Court, I believe, are always changed by that service.  Witness the number of democratic appointees that have turned conservative and republican appointees who have turned the other way.  They should be changed.  The responsibility of those who serve on the Supreme Court is awesome in my opinion and I believe that most who serve take that responsibility very, very seriously.  The one exception currently being Clarence Thomas but I will save my opinion on that for another day.  So, what stands out most is this.  When the entire Court, for virtually all of its history until the last decade, was white, male, protestants, nobody complained.  There was no talk of diversity, or the lack thereof.  There was no talk of a “skewed” Court because of the religious, gender or racial makeup of the Court. So instead of one protestant there will be none. Why do so many care so much all of a sudden about the religious composition of the Court?  Look around, our country is becoming more and more “diverse” every day.  My son’s friends are Hindu and Muslim, Jew and Protestant, with the Protestants in the minority.  The Court should be comprised of the best and brightest, the most thoughtful and the most caring.  The Court should be comprised of those who, like Elena Kagan, have dedicated their lives to learning the law, living the law, teaching the law and loving the law.  Why do so many care so much?  Because racism and anti-semitism are all too alive and well here in the land of the free.  It may be better but we are not done yet.

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Shabbat Shalom Y’all

About six years ago, we moved to the south. It was quite a culture shock. It is especially weird to go to Temple with blond big hair blue eyed goddesses with syrupy southern accents, especially after growing up in New York City with friends who ironed their seriously kinky brunette hair and had their birth noses reshaped! I realize that assimilation has taken a toll, as has intermarriage and the failure to affiliate. But its still funny. We grow up with stereotypes, which become stereotypes because they have grains of truth in them. I personally am married to a Jew by choice who celebrates St. Patrick’s day (ethnically speaking of course) so… stereotypes are dangerous as well. Nevertheless here we are. It is a beautiful spring day in full bloom here in the sunny south and Shabbat is coming. So Shabbat Shalom Y’all.

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