What is hateful to you do not do to any person. All the rest is commentary. Go and study. – Hillel (Talmud, Shabbat, 31a)
Let me ask you, my intelligent reader, one simple question: do you like it when random people tell you what they perceive to be the error of your ways? Do you in fact hate it when people do that? How about when people make fun of you, or people like you? How do you feel about that?
What is hateful to you, do not do to any person.
I am a fat woman. I’ve spent an amazing amount of my life and money trying to be a thin woman, and folks, it is not going to happen. And no, I’m not open to arguments: if a diet was going to change my body permanently, if exercise were going to change it permanently, I would be thin. And I’m not. (Nor am I alone. Did you know that the most extensive study of weight loss diets ever done revealed that 5 years out, 95% of dieters regain whatever they lost? That over 41% wound up heavier than they began?)
In my personal life, I am blessed with friends and family who love me as I am. I think they are mostly relieved that I finally let the dieting go and have settled into a routine of regular exercise and healthy meals.
But let me turn on a TV, or the computer, or for that matter, go out in public, and I and other fat people face a world that never heard the words of Hillel and certainly never heard of kindness. They think it is perfectly fine to moo at a woman exercising outdoors. They write hateful things to us and about us. They think it is perfectly fine to make TV shows about the humiliation of fat people. You know. You’ve seen it, too.
So here’s all I have to say: What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. If you see a fat person, you don’t need to be extra nice. You just need to be as polite as you’d be to anyone else. Making jokes or giving advice, under the guise of “humor” or “for their own good” is just cruelty in a clown suit or a fake white coat.
If you are tempted, just remember the last time someone said something useless, ignorant or cruel to you. Re-live the feeling. Then find something else to talk about. Your words will not help any more than the latest fad diet will – in fact, they might do a great deal more harm.
Just for today, try saying nothing hateful about your own body or anyone else’s.
What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. All the rest is commentary. Go and study.
I walked out of a movie this afternoon (Lincoln, it’s good), flipped my phone back on, and was greeted with a personal message on Twitter:
“All nations regret that they cannot exterminate 15m jews 40 times for killing 600m their nationals in all wars and revolts”
I had to read it a couple of times before I could understand what it said. I run across anti-Semitism all the time on the web, but it is not often addressed personally to me. When I investigated further, I realized it wasn’t personal, not really: the person sending it had sent the same message to dozens of Jews or Jewish-sounding people on Twitter. I reported him and blocked the account. Yuck.
It’s been a rough week. I lived in Israel for a year, ten years ago, and I formed an attachment to the country and its people that will never leave me. I was there at a hard time – the 2nd Intifada – and that cemented my respect for Israelis. They live through times that most of us cannot imagine, and the vast majority of them carry on their lives with grace. I listen to Israeli radio, and was aware of the rockets raining down on Sderot and other communities in the south, and noticed that no one in the media outside of Israel seemed to give a hoot. The BBC never mentioned it, CNN never mentioned it, and it was not mentioned on Al Jazeera, either. Were I not “tuned in” to Israeli sources, I wouldn’t have known about it, because no one else cared to report it.
Then, ten days ago, the Israelis finally retaliated. Had France been shelling Britain for months, we’d have seen some fireworks from the Brits before now. Had Mexico been shelling Texas — well, it’s Texas. Of course they’d shoot back. But when the Israelis finally shoot back they’re the bad guys?
For ten days now, I’ve been watching Jews argue over this and my heart is breaking. I listen to Jews call one another names, fail to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and read things into each others words. If one says he’s praying for peace, there are half a dozen folks ready to have his head because he wasn’t enthusiastic enough about war. If she speaks up for Israel’s right to defend herself, a different half dozen are ready and waiting to descend with words of flame. And all I want to do is scream, “STOP IT!”
My fellow Jews: we do not need to be enemies against one another. There are plenty of people in the world that hate us, like the creep who sent me that tweet. He has read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other lies, and he’s ready to exterminate us all. He doesn’t care whether we belong to AIPAC or J Street. He doesn’t care if we love Israel or deplore its existence. He just hates Jews.
If you want to talk about your position, I will listen. I may not agree, but that is not a condition of my listening. If you want to talk about your position, will you listen to me as well? Can we talk about our fears? Can we talk about our hopes?
I love the Jewish People. I really, really, really like Jews. And this is breaking my heart.
הכרת הטוב, Hakarat Hatov, means “recognizing the good.” It’s the Hebrew phrase we use to convey the concept of gratitude. Our tradition encourages us to appreciate every bit of good is in our lives, no matter how many legitimate complaints we may have.
November 11 was originally designated Armistice Day because it was the day that the hostilities of WWI stopped. The Treaty of Versailles would not be signed for months, but the people of every nation involved in that war had learned to recognize the goodness of peace. One of the causes of the war had been the tendency of international leaders to forget that war is horrible: they were focussed on potential gains, offended honor, and on their alliances. WWI was a terrible lesson, with more terrible lessons to follow.
In 1958 in the United States, President Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, in order to include the veterans of WWII and Korea in the appreciation. It became a day to recognize the good in each of those individuals, and the goodness of their gift to the rest of us. When a soldier is drafted or enlists in the military, he or she takes the oath of enlistment:
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
This oath effectively limits the exercise of many constitutional rights that ordinary citizens enjoy. A soldier in uniform cannot criticize the President or the military, and must be careful about doing so out of uniform. A soldier must follow all lawful orders (and must be prepared to justify in court why an order was not lawful if he does not follow it.) Search and seizure are perfectly legal on a military base. Most Americans would chafe mightily at these restrictions and others under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military service requires the voluntary relinquishment of freedoms the rest of us take for granted.
Add to that the hazards of serving a nation at war: the physical and mental toll of battle, the stress of living in a war zone for an extended period of time, the strain on family relationships and friendships, and the challenge of return to civilian life, and it’s obvious that we owe our veterans many thanks.
Where we fail, though, is that often all they get is thanks. “Thank you” will not provide health care, education, housing, or mental health care. “Thank you” is cheap, but all those other things are expensive. We and our politicians are quick with thanks and lip service, but not so quick with the rest.
When I am writing a check for taxes it is easy to think about all the things the government does that I don’t want. (I’ll spare you the list, but trust me, it’s long.) Hakarat Hatov, recognizing the good, demands I look further than the things that are bugging me. It demands that I recognize the good that those men and women have done for me, and that I make sure that enough of my taxes go to at least ameliorate their lost health and lost opportunities. (If you think that we already take good care of our veterans, I suggest you read this earlier blog post of mine, or this article about veterans and suicide.
In Pirkei Avot 4.1, Ben Zoma says, “Who is rich? He who appreciates what he has.” The question for us each Veterans Day is, do we appreciate what we have? Do we appreciate what these people have given us? And if we say we appreciate it, what are we going to do about it?
I just got word via the Women’s Rabbinic Network that Anat Hoffman was arrested again last night at the Kotel, the Western Wall, when she was there with a group from Women of the Wall and another group from Hadassah. Since I can’t find any more information on Ha’aretz to corroborate the details I’m not going to say more than that. She’s been arrested, again. I wish I were surprised.
Anat Hoffman is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel. She is also the chair of Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall. She was elected to the Jerusalem City Council and sat on it for fourteen years. She has been tireless in her efforts to seek fairness and justice for all in Israel.
In the recent past, women have been arrested at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh for wearing a too-traditional tallit, for wearing a tallit in a manner too much like a man, and for similar ridiculousness. If this is a place that belongs to the whole Jewish people, why are women not allowed to pray there? Why must women be silent and meek there? Why is only one expression of Judaism acceptable there?
Some will say that this is an unimportant matter. Who cares what the haredim do at the Kotel? What about Iran? What about security? What about the Situation with the Palestinians? What about the Arab Spring?
So it is not a trivial matter that a group of women are insisting on their right to pray at the most famous holy site in the Jewish world. This is not about the Wall. It is not about shawls. It is about women’s right to be visible without molestation or repression.
The facts are not all in regarding this latest arrest. I hope that Anat is all right. She is in my prayers tonight. But not just in my prayers: I am joining other members of the Women’s Rabbinic Network in sending a donation to the Women of the Wall in honor of her, and to help cover the legal expenses of this work.
If you would like to join me (please join me!) you can donate funds to either of these organizations. Just click on the link, and it will take you to the donations page.
The month of Cheshvan is sometimes called “Mar”Cheshvan, Bitter Cheshvan, because there are no holidays or rejoicing in it. I am sorry to say that Anat’s arrest and the continuing assaults on women’s rights in Israel make this Cheshvan bitter indeed. Let us hope that the time is coming when women can again stand at the Wall and pray, as we have done for centuries. Let us hope that some future Cheshvan is sweet.
Update: 10:58 pm, PST, Oct 16: The Women of the Wall report on their facebook page that Anat was still detained at this writing, and they show a photo of her being taken away in handcuffs. At their regular morning prayer time, two other WoW leaders, Director Lesley Sachs and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, were also arrested. (Now would be a very good time to “like” their page on facebook, if you use facebook.)
Justice, justice you shall pursue. – Deuteronomy 16:20
This past month I helped out a friend and his parents, Joe and Hideko. He needed to be out of town, and his elderly parents, who live on their own, needed someone to watch over them and do grocery shopping. August is my least busy time of year, and I genuinely like his parents: no problem!
The day after Dave (I’ve changed all the names) left town, his dad took three falls and complained of dizziness and a headache. I bundled the couple into my car and off we went to the emergency room nearest their home, as instructed on Dave’s “In case of emergency” instructions. Good news: no injuries, and no stroke in progress (my big fear.) The doc said, casually, “Be sure and get him an appointment with his VA doc this coming week.”
It seemed so simple: I had a number to call for his doc, and I called it. The person answering the phone said they’d call me back with an appointment.
Days passed. Three days. I began to get nervous. Joe began to fret. I called again.
We had the same conversation, and I was told they’d call back. “Ahh, wait a minute!” I said, “That’s what they told us last time. WHEN are you going to call back?” “Oh, sorry that happened, ma’am, within an hour.”
Two hours pass. My blood pressure is rising. I phoned back.
This routine continued during office hours for a WEEK. I talked with a different person each time. Some of them lectured me on “procedure” and got downright nasty when I suggested that I no longer believed in callbacks. One seemed sympathetic, and assured me that “the doctor will call tomorrow.” Whew!
Then, out of the blue, we got a call from the VA, a doctor’s office, no less, but it was an office calling to set up in-home visits (which my friend had been trying to set up for Joe before he left town.) The nurse (a nurse!) on the other end of the line was very apologetic, but also VERY FIRM that I had to get Joe to the doc soon. I assured her I’d love to, but how?
She said we could just go to the walk-in outpatient clinic in Oakland. No one else had mentioned it.
So, the next business day, I bundle the couple into the car (this time with my partner in tow, because I’d learned that these two intrepid elders tended to wander in opposite directions in public places.) We got to the second floor of the building in Oakland and walked into a mob scene.
Lines and lines of men (mostly men) waiting to talk to someone. There was a line for people with appointments (I wanted to ask them all, how DID you get those?) and a line for people with no appointments. Joe and I got in that line. Hideko and Linda sat in the chairs. We were only the second in line; I figured we’d gotten our first break.
This eighty-something gentleman, veteran of three wars — WWII, Korea, and Vietname — and I stood in the line for thirty minutes. This gave me time to observe the room. The person handling our line seemed to spend most of his time staring at a computer screen and shaking his head. All around us there were vets, many of them elderly, and most of them, judging from their clothing, not well off financially. They interviewed one another about the wars they’d been in (WWII? Korea? Nam? Desert Storm? Iraq? Afghanistan?). They waited, patiently.
Finally we got to the head of our line. At Joe’s request (his hearing is so poor that communication is difficult,) I explained to the guy behind the counter what the nurse had said: Joe needs to see a doc, and soon. He shook his head.
“No can do. You need to call for an appointment.” I explained that we’d already tried that, that the nurse said he could come to the outpatient clinic.
“This is an outpatient clinic,” he said, talking slowly, as if I were perhaps not quite bright, “For a post-hospital-discharge visit, you need an appointment.” Then because I continued standing there, silent, trying to keep a grip on my temper, he said, “Why don’t you go over to the guy in the other line and talk with him?” He pointed us to the line that was marked clearly, “Only enter this line if you have an appointment.”
I looked at Joe. Joe looked at me. We walked over to the other desk. That fellow immediately waved us off. “This is for people with appointments.”
“Have some mercy!” I said, loudly, “We’ve been phoning for a week!” I marched up to the counter, past the line of guys waiting and stood at that counter. Joe stood next to me. I riveted my gaze on the guy behind the desk. “I have to get this veteran to Dr. Marcetti. The nurse said so. A doctor said so. And I don’t know what else to do, so I’m just going to stand here.”
There was a little silence. He typed at his computer some more. He tore something off the printer.
“Here’s an appointment for next Monday.”
Now, what I want to know is, why do we treat veterans this way? Joe was trembling from standing so long (I was trembling from holding my temper.) This is a man who spent most of his eighty two years serving this country. He’s the veteran of multiple wars. His wife followed him around the globe; they’d lived the peripatetic life of military people. THIS is their reward?
I hear from Dave that things have actually gotten better in the last few years. The Obama Administration has reinstated some veteran services that were eliminated or curtailed during the Bush years. That fact left me speechless. This is better?
Justice, justice shall you pursue.
I ask you, where is the justice for men and women who come home broken and hurt? Where is the justice for those who devote their lives to our protection and care? If you call the VA asking for justice, well, just know that no one ever calls back.
Justice, Justice you shall pursue. – Deuteronomy 16:20
Twice in the last month I have had experiences that made me wonder where justice might be found.
One was this morning. I went to register voters at the Emeryville Community Action Program, where folks were taking numbers and lining up for a distribution of food from the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Everyone I talked with was already registered to vote, but I had some interesting conversations.
My politics are way left of center, but I try to challenge my assumptions. This was a golden opportunity to do just that: I’m at a place that is literally handing out free food and free (used) clothing. I looked at the group and asked myself, “Where could each of these people get a job, if there were jobs to be had?”
The only person I saw there under the age of 60 was a charming young man who was setting up. I did not ask if he was a volunteer or a paid worker, but he was definitely working. Everyone else looked quite a bit older than me (57). I also noticed that every hand I shook was callused; these people had done some hard work in their day. Many were both elderly and disabled. There were also a fair number of Asian elderly ladies who did not speak English — but even if they had, I can’t picture them working at Starbucks.
For the life of me, I can’t imagine what any of them would be doing without help from someone, nor can I imagine that there’s anything wrong with them getting help. But I’d rather see them at the grocery store with food stamps than standing in line on the street, waiting for the Food Bank handout. Old people should be treated with dignity, or so I was taught.
That brings me to the second experience: at the Veteran’s Administration. I’ll blog that one tomorrow.
Justice, justice you will pursue.
Where is the justice? It sure isn’t standing out there on San Pablo Ave, waiting patiently for a little food.
“Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa.” — “Do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds.” Leviticus 19:16
If someone is in dire danger, this commandment in the Torah insists that we must act. The ancient rabbis took this commandment so seriously that they teach us that even if it means breaking the Sabbath, even if it means breaking almost any other law, we must not stand by while someone is in danger of death. (The exceptions? We may not engage in murder, incest, or idolatry, even to save a life.)
Right now, in the United States, we are in the midst of a critical blood shortage. Last week, the American Red Cross reported that the nation’s blood banks were down by 50,000 pints. That is not a typo: FIFTY THOUSAND PINTS of blood — blood upon which people’s lives depend! — are simply not there. Each of those pints could make the difference between life and death for someone injured in the storms in the East, for a firefighter injured in Colorado, or for a mother with a complicated childbirth. Cancer patients sometimes need many pints of blood and blood products to continue fighting the disease.
Today I stopped by my local Red Cross Blood Donation center, and when the nurse looked at my record, she said, “Oh! Your blood type is negative! We really need those!” I asked her about the shortage and she shook her head: “Yes, it’s really, really bad. Now let’s get your blood pressure.”
Now I have a bandaid in the crook of my left elbow, and a sticker on my shirt. I don’t know where my pint of A negative will go, but I’m told it may save as many as three lives.
Some people can’t donate: my partner, a cancer survivor, is barred from ever performing this mitzvah ever again. A person with a fresh tattoo or piercing may not donate until 12 months have passed. A person who may have been exposed to any of several diseases may not donate. People who have taken certain drugs cannot. If you wonder if you are eligible, or you have other questions, you can find the answers on the Red Cross Blood Donation website. That site can also direct you to the nearest place to donate, and in many areas, you can make your appointment online.
The preservation of human life takes precedence over all the other commandments in Judaism. The Talmud emphasizes this principle by citing the verse from Leviticus [18:5]: “You shall therefore keep my statutes…which if a man do, he shall live by them.” The rabbis add: “That he shall live by them, and not that he shall die by them.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b)
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses speaks to Israel with a message from the Divine, and near the end he says:
I call heaven and earth to witness you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants.
For those of us able to donate blood, we have a the opportunity to choose life in a very literal way. The choice before us is indeed a choice between life and death, blessing and curse.
Choose life and blessing, that you and others may live.