Georgia on My Mind, Pt2

Image: A landscape just off I-75 south of Atlanta. Photo by Ruth Adar, 11/7/2016

I’m typing this in a hotel room in Macon, Georgia. As soon as I finish this, I’m off to bed, because tomorrow is Election Day and a good volunteer nonpartisan poll monitor gets her beauty sleep!

I’ve been through training and orientation and meditations and prayers with other rabbis. I have wonderful support from the folks at home, especially from Linda.

Two old friends were kind enough to host me for teaching my online class Sunday afternoon. That was a first: I’ve never taught it “on the road” before.  I was afraid that if I waited to travel on Monday, I might arrive so stiff and pretzelly that I’d be useless at the polls. But never fear: all is well. I’m as limber as I usually am, which is not very, but it will do.

One unexpected pleasure: the autumn colors are still in the trees. They are past their peak, but I haven’t seen these hills in the fall in so long that I think they’re beautiful.

I hope that tomorrow is peaceful. I rather doubt it, but we can always hope, right? I think of the vote as a sacred right, and I want everyone to have theirs. It’s only fair.

[For an explanation of what I’m doing in Georgia, and why Jews regard voting rights as sacred, read Georgia on My Mind, posted last week.]

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A Mensch in Election Season

Image: “2016 Election,” flag background. Art by MIH83 on pixabay.com.

In a place where there are no menschen, strive to be a mensch. – Pirkei Avot 2:5

A mensch is a decent human being, someone with integrity and a heart. The Hebrew in this ancient saying translates as “man,” but I find that mensch is a better translation. The general idea is, when everyone else is misbehaving, be a decent person.

I’ve written little about the current U.S. election on this blog. My topic here is “Basic Judaism” and I mostly try to stick to it. I certainly have opinions about the election, which I look forward to expressing on the mail-in ballot resting on my table as I type this. However, there are things that I feel I must say:

Hateful language is wrong, no matter how correct we believe our opinion to be. Hateful language takes many forms. Any time we choose to see another human being as less human than ourselves, we stray into the territory of hate. If we vocalize that belief, it’s hate speech.

It’s fine to disagree; Jewish tradition has long supported the idea that it is in disagreement that we often can find our way toward the truth. The sages spoke of “an argument for the sake of heaven” – one like that of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, who argued in the academy but who respected one another in the street and in their homes. Remember, the ultimate goal is not to “crush” the other but to find a way towards a future that will serve all of us.

“They started it” is not a good excuse on a playground. It doesn’t wash for adults. “They are just as bad” isn’t an argument, it’s a cop out.

How can we be menschen?  Here are some ideas:

  1. We can listen more than we speak.
  2. When the discussion falls below our standards, we can raise it up by asking questions that focus on values: “Why is this so important to you?”
  3. We can seek common ground: what do we share?
  4. We can vote for candidates who have behaved like menschen, in our opinion.
  5. We can refrain from spiteful language and behavior.
  6. We can be very careful about the stories we pass along via speech and social media: what’s the source? Does this really need to be passed along?
  7. We can be supportive of others who are trying to be constructive, even if we don’t agree with them about everything.
  8. If we hear someone else indulging in hate speech, we can challenge it effectively.

This has been a strange, horrible election cycle. As individuals, it is tempting to despair.

At times like these I look to the wisdom of the rabbis, and this quote from Shammai comes to mind:

Shammai says, “Make your Torah fixed, say little and do much, and receive every person with a pleasant face.” – Pirkei Avot 1:15

  • Make your Torah fixed – Don’t lose your grip on Torah!
  • say little and do much – Listen more, speak less. Do good deeds. VOTE!
  • Receive every person with a pleasant face – Give everyone a chance to be a mensch, too.

May we survive this season, and move into better times as soon as possible!