I was taking a walk near my home this morning and found myself on a cul-de-sac which I know is populated primarily with Jewish Orthodox families. As I walked though, I tried to imagine what life would be like if I lived there as one of them… same neighborhood as mine, same weather, same parks for our children to play in, and yet a totally and completely different life.
What would it feel like to have the kind of existence in which every decision I made was informed by my faith? Would I feel “more holy” than that guy eating a slice of bacon? Would I feel as if I were more important than that mom getting into her car on Shabbat to take her kids to soccer practice? Would I think myself more deserving because my husband wears a kippa on his head? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that those choices would enhance my life while maintaining the utmost respect for those who choose differently. But honestly, I’m not sure.
I worry that in some ways, separation is what makes us feel special, or even holy. I am reminded of a time I was in a Jewish concert and the Cantor of a local synagogue who was on stage made some kind of “wink-wink” joke about being kosher into the mic… you know, the kind of joke that (of course!) all of us could relate to because we were probably all kosher. Well, as a Jewish clergy person who was in the room and who is NOT kosher, the joke didn’t make me giggle. If anything, I felt like maybe I wasn’t “holy enough” for the company I was in, or at least not holy enough for that Cantor. I was separate.
Our news is saturated with stories of “us versus them” these days. We have cultural divides, religious divides, political divides, and so much separateness. In these times when there are such clear sides about so many issues, I am concerned about us all enjoying our separation a little, for it is possible that feeling “other” (while we all claim to unconditionally love the “other”) also encourages us to feel superior… dare I say, “holier than thou.”
Am I holier than you if there is a cross around my neck? Am I holier than you if I don’t eat shrimp? Am I holier than you if I pray down on my knees? Am I holier than you if I hold a protest sign, if I agree or don’t agree with a policy, if I call my senator or if I don’t? Maybe the actions that make us feel good about ourselves, and perhaps even closer to God, are the very things that also allow us to feel superior. Is it possible to be confident in ourselves, be separate in some ways, but also view one another as complete equals? Or has “separate but equal” proven time and time again to be a concept that just doesn’t work?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I admire those who allow their choices to be informed by their souls. I’d like to think that in some ways I am one of them. And I admire those who carry signs at protests as I’ve carried a sign or two myself. But in this present time of stress, anxiety, and fear, we need to invest in discovering the holiness in “everyone else” as much if not more than in ourselves, even if they are counter to us in nearly every way. If we don’t, the whole world will lose.
Yes, we should all fight for what we believe in, but we also don’t want to become what we detest.. someone arrogant in our opinions, unable to hear a differing thought, and unable to admit the weaknesses that may be present in our “own side” or the sliver of merit in the “other side.” Let’s never assume that our worth is any greater than anyone else’s.
All we have are our choices, and may we make the clearest ones we can. But when debating those who make different choices, let’s try to remember to still have kindness in our hearts for the opposing debater. As my friend said the other day, “love the person, hate the idea.”
Join us for our next Cool Shul Shabbat this Friday, February 10 at 7pm at Cool Shul, 13323 W. Washington Blvd. LA 90066. And join our mailing list to know everything going on at Cool Shul by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.