The day after Yom Kippur (and the next)

I am recovering from too much “recovery eating” following the long fast. I am recovering from many hours of sitting and participating in services awaiting the chance to blow Tekiah Gedolah on the shofar at the end of the day (the shofar is a hollow horn from a kosher animal usually a rams horn tekiah is a simple note that rises at the end, the gedolah from Hebrew word for big or large indicates the final blast which is generally held as long as the blower can sustain, it must be longer then 9 seconds and we generally play for 18 seconds to avoid the appearance of competition). I am thinking about the many questions that were raised during the day by the Rabbis and by the texts. None of this is new to me, I have done it for many years. The questions are also not new, but the answers seem to squirm around and change with each passing year. Is that because I have lived another year and added to my “wisdom” or is it merely because I have witnessed more life along the way, most likely it is a bit of both, if there is a difference, and changes in our society that have caused me to focus on different answers. There is no answer to these questions, just more questions.

I started to focus on “evil speech”  lashon horah (not sure of the transliteration) which is one of the grave sins for which there is no forgiveness according to some rabbinic sources. This becomes important to me as I listen to the ravings of politicians attacking each other and everyone who is not a supporter using the most ‘evil speech” I can imagine. Do these people not understand that these words cannot be unsaid? They have released them into the world and the internet makes sure they will continue to come around for years to come. I just saw such an attack from 2012 come back around as if it were new. I have listened to shifting positions and to attacks on immigrants as if the speakers were not descendants of immigrants themselves, to attacks on people of different religions, as if their religion was the only one that has “the word.” They are quick to attack Muslims in particular as if they are the only religion that is home to fanatics and terrorists forgetting that the first horrific attack on US territory was at the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City by an American of supposedly Christian background. I will not except any group of hosting sick, angry people.

Writing the next day. . .

The use of hate speech inflames any discussion and limits the possibility of constructive dialogue. Once I express a point of view in definitive language with no conditions, I leave myself no graceful way to come to a compromise. The people who oppose Planned Parenthood have left themselves no room to accept the role they play in helping women lead a healthier life. Appropriate planning would prevent most abortions. Yet, having stated their positions without conditions they feel obligated to take more and more outrageous stands, even threatening to shut down the federal government for the sake of their position. I could go on to state other areas where groups in government have painted themselves into a corner, but I think I have made my point.

I will try even harder this year to refrain from any kind of evil speech, gossip or even just plain uncontrolled venting. I know I will fail at some point, probably on an internet forum someplace, but I will try.

Not So Random Thoughts on Rosh Hashanah

The sun is setting on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Stein’s sermon is rattling around in my brain. Thoughts of Sarajevo seem to keep coming to the fore even though it was just one of many cities we visited in the land of the former Yugoslavia. Mix that with memories of my parents and I am wondering where this is going.

Start with the March from Selma AL to Washington DC that Rabbi Stein participated in and talked about today. It is a walk that passed though sections of the country that house large patches of hatred for Blacks, for liberals, for anything that is not them. Rabbi talked about being met by groups with rebel flags and yelling invective against the marchers who must have felt threatened, but unlike 50 years ago when the police joined in with the mobs at Edmund Pettis Bridge this time they served to provide good security for the marchers.

In our wanderings Carol and I have driven many of those roads. We have been to Selma and crossed the bridge. We have been to Montgomery and seen the plaques to Jefferson Davis and to the Marchers who met Bloody Sunday on the bridge. We even found Rev King’s church in Montgomery just two or three blocks down the main road from the Alabama capitol building. These are parts where it can sometimes feel lonely as a Yankee, as a Jewish Yankee. There are reminders of the hate.

Sarajevo may epitomize to me the general nature of hate. For over 40 years Marshal Tito kept a tight lid on the Yugoslavia he was instrumental in creating out of the pieces of the Balkans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The people were Muslim, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and apparently they didn’t care much for each other,  but they lived together in relative peace because Tito and his forces, mostly Serbian, didn’t offer them any choice. They intermarried and they lived next door to each other in mixed neighborhoods, or sometimes in separate communities separated by a river and united by bridges. When Tito died and his successors were not as wily or as tough as him, the country began to disintegrate and they tried to separate. As each sought his own land they resorted to violence and ultimately the hatred of the other won out. In Sarajevo there is to this day a broad diversity of people, from Muslim to Roman Catholic to Orthodox, fewer than a thousand Jews remain. The Serbs gathered their forces on the mountains surrounding the city and sought to subdue it and make it Serbian by force. It is strange to walk through “sniper alley” today and see the mountains that come down to within a couple of blocks of the main street and know that on both sides Serbian snipers were in fortified locations waiting for anyone to pass through their sights. How must a person hate to pick off an unarmed stranger just because that person is a stranger.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country, is a patched together republic that has an assigned flag and an assigned national anthem, wordless, and three leaders who alternate in running the country. A major piece, Republika  Srbska, is looking to breakaway in a referendum. The definition of this region is intolerance and hatred.

We find this same intolerance in the US. The violence is there, it is mostly hidden and it is physically expressed only by the outliers. But listen to the words of Kim Davis, ignore the subject, it is the language of hate for the other. Listen to the words of so many politicians taking sides with no thought that the only way to govern is to compromise, how can compromise be reached if the sides have promised no compromise, have taken stands that leave no room for backing down. I don’t need to name names, just pick up any newspaper (if you can find one) or turn on any news channel, both the flagrantly biased and the less biased. The language of hate permeates.

I have decided that I will abjure the language, even for those I find in my heart to be despicable. I do not need to restate what they say, they say it for themselves. I cannot listen anymore to the rhetoric, I will read about actual positions where they exist and make my own decisions based on that. It is hard to not hate when surrounded by the language.

Why my parents? They felt strongly about the political health of the country. My mother was as liberal as they come and Dad too was a strong supporter of minorities and the underdog. All I have to do is look at the charities they supported and the legacy they left me of concern and support for those not as fortunate as us.