Saturday, November 12, 2016

Encountering Truths, Opinions and One Another

I have I have waited to post about the presidential election results. I wanted to make sure that what I said here is what I truly want to say. I will likely share several postings on the topic. One thing I have decided is that since my blog is primarily about Jewish Education, I am not going to focus on the politics of the elections nor my concerns for what will happen next politically. At least for now.

Although there are protests going on in several places, until something changes through legal means, I am going to assume that on January 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president of the United States. And I do know that there are several educational and spiritual issues before us. 

I serve with two rabbis, Evan Schultz and Jim Prosnit. They are my partners in education and teachers in spiritual connection. Reeves Shabbat Lech Lecha, the first following the election, Evan shared the following sermon. I believe he captured some essential truths and rephrased how we need to think about politics, ideas and one. Another in a way that is brilliant, authentic and right.




My words to our community this evening:

Lech L’cha 5777

“Now Melchitzedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High and blessed him, saying “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, who has given your foes into your hands.”

I share this verse with you tonight, just days after a presidential election that has in so many ways deeply separated us as a country, that has brought us to realize there are so many in this country who we in no way understand, that has brought many here this evening scared and deeply anxious about the acts of hate, antisemitism, and bigotry that already are plaguing our schools and our streets.

Many of us have undoubtedly read countless articles and opinion pieces on why the election went as it did, and no matter where each of us stands politically, there now is a sense of soul searching and real questioning as to where we want our country to go and what we want it to be.

As I too engaged in this process over the past two days, and undoubtedly will for weeks to come, the realization I have had is this one:
I surrounded myself with people who shared the same ideas as my own and dismissed those with alternate views.  I read articles that furthered my own beliefs about the election and the future of this country, and dismissed any other point of view.  I stereotyped and generalized and characterized those who did not agree with my point of view as ignorant, stupid, and gullible.

As I dug deeper, I realized the world that I had created for myself.
A world in which I had, at some point along the way, mistaken my own beliefs and opinions for truth.

I, a Reform Jew, who joined this movementprecisely because we outwardly state that we do not have a stronghold on the truth,
have over time staked many truths firmly in the sand.  I turned a blind eye to those with other opinions, I dismissed them.

Just yesterday, as I sat in a room full of Reform rabbis and educators at Eisner camp, I realized how I have never shared with our kids and teens an opposing opinion on many social issues.
We take our tenth graders to the RAC, The Religious Action Center in Washington, DC,and they hear the Jewish position on social issues such as women’s rights, on gun control, on abortion.
We have presented these not as our opinions, not as our beliefs, but as truths to our children.  As if there is only one right way to think about this issue.

I recall a couple of years ago, on our trip to DC with our teenagers,
a student from another congregation, who I did not know, told me he was pro-life during one of the issue sessions.  I didn’t know what to say to him, there was no space for him in a room filled with teens committed to a women’s right to choose. And this was another Reform Jew.  I didn’t ask him why.
I didn’t try to understand him.
I didn’t raise my hand and point out there’s a student with a different opinion.
I shut the door on him.  Shame on me for that.

And I know the same thing happens on the other side.  Each side has essentially turned opinion into truth, we’ve staked our ideas deep into the ground, and look at the result, look at the dangerous world we’ve all now created.

I know there are extremists on both sides, I’m not here to talk about them tonight.  We know that bigotry, hatred, anti-semitism and misogyny are deep manifestations of evil and it is our obligation to fight that with no hesitation.

And I do know there are certain issues which have been irresponsibly turned into matters of opinion, such as climate change, and it is certainly our job to call out people who deny what science has proven over and over again.

I’m talking tonight about the many people who shut out the other side on issues that really do have two sides, who live in their own Facebook feed, who characterize the other side as just plain wrong, or even worse, idiots for believing any other way.

Our country is in need of healing.  And that is why I started with the biblical verse that I did.

This verse, from Genesis chapter 14, is a rare moment in the Biblical text.  Abram, who has just come victorious from battle, sits down with a non-Israelite king-priest name Malchitzedek.  The two come from opposite sides, opposite peoples, opposite places.  And what does Malchitzedek do, he breaks bread with Abram.  He pours him a glass of wine. And he blesses Abram.

Talk about a calling for what we need right now.

Yesterday I thus committed myself to two things.

One, more face to face conversations with people who have opinions and viewpoints different from my own.

Two, reading more literature and books that take me outside of my own ideas and opinions.

I am not na├»ve, I know there is immense work to be done and a great deal to be concerned about after Tuesday.  But in times of uncertainty I look to the Torah.  And if anything this verse pushes me to sit down and break bread with those who have different opinions and viewpoints from own.
It prompts me to listen.  To remind myself that my positions on many issues are opinions, they are deeply held, strong beliefs, but they are not Truth with a capital T.

I have begun the work.
This week I’ll be sitting down with a person from our community who holds positions very different from my own.  I said to him, I don’t want to talk issues. I don’t walk to talk policies.

I just want it to be two human beings, sitting down,trying to understand each other.
He agreed and welcomed the talk.
I know it is not going to change the world.
But it’s a small step in rebuilding a bridge that has fallen apart.

Our Torah portion this week begins with the charge to Abram –
“lech l’cha m’artzecha,” Go forth from your land. In other words, now is the time to slowly step outside of our own circles of ideas and opinions – and I say this to both sides, both sides who are here in our synagogue and community.

Now is the time to offer an invitation, to reach out, with a sense of curiosity and empathy, with a hope of repairing the bridge,
with a faith that like Abram and Malchitzedek, there is good in breaking bread together,of offering blessing to one another.
It is a first step on the journey as we go forth.

Please God, give us the strength and courage to do this work,
help us to see the path we need to forge together. Amen.

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