Archive for the ‘TOLERANCE’ Category

SLACK AGAINST THE GRAIN

What if you looked in the mirror and couldn’t see yourself? For many Americans and others around the world, that’s reality. But Jason Collins is putting his reflection back where it belongs—in plain sight. Let’s not force others to disappear in the process.

Two weeks ago, Brittney Griner, the 6-8 basketball All-American from Baylor, announced that she was a lesbian. “Ho hum,” the sports world responded. Lesbians in sports don’t rouse much attention—and that’s good.

Last Monday witnessed some history. Collins, a 6-11 center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards last season, wrote in Sports Illustrated that he’s gay. A veteran of 12 NBA seasons, he became the first active player in America’s four major pro leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) to come out of the closet. The reaction was close to “ho hum.” That’s good, too.

I have a personal stake in this. I have three sons. The eldest, like me, is straight. The middle was born female and is transgender—a term that in many ways defies description. He refers to himself as male and legally changed his first and middle names. My youngest is gay and happily married—to my son-in-law.

I’m delighted that Collins received much support—from President Obama, NBA commissioner David Stern and Lakers star Kobe Bryant among others. But not everyone was thrilled. Chris Broussard, who covers the NBA for CNN, said on the air that homosexuals violate the laws of Jesus Christ. He took flack. On Tuesday, Broussard wrote online, “As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement … and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.”

While most sports fans and much of America is cutting Jason Collins slack, lets cut Chris Broussard some, too. Look, I totally disagree with his opinion. But he’s entitled to his religious beliefs so long as he doesn’t interfere with others who believe or live differently. And he says he won’t. So let him demonstrate that without being demonized.

Many Christians, Jews, Muslims and others think that homosexuality is wrong—and sinful. I disagree. But people who hold those positions must be free to do so as long as they don’t act to restrict others’ lives. We cannot uphold freedom of religion and speech if we refuse to allow those with different opinions to speak out.

According to millions of Christians, I’m going to hell. I couldn’t care less because I don’t believe that there’s a “right” religion or form of religious expression let alone a hell. But I care deeply about their right to express themselves so long as they don’t assault my privacy or preach—let alone act on—restricting my rights and freedoms.

So here’s to gay and lesbian athletes who now can see more of themselves in the mirror and, hopefully, compete openly. And here’s to the First Amendment with which no one should compete.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A MISLEADING QUESTION

Yesterday’s Opinion Pages in The New York Times asked, “Can the United States stay engaged with modern democratic Middle Eastern countries that have sizable anti-Western populations?” The answers by the chosen debaters were reasonable. The question was misleading.

Modern democratic Middle Eastern countries don’t exist—with the exception of Israel. Now let’s be clear: Millions of people in the region want their nations to move into the category of “modern democracy.” But millions more don’t share that desire. The recent attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Yemen—and the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya—reflect real differences with the modern democratic West that can’t be papered over. Kings? In the Middle East, they rule as well as reign. Ayatollahs? They run Iran. Autocrats? Syria’s makes headlines daily. Elected presidents? Yes, even those—but men ruling over fractured states where the rule of law has yet to be established let alone extended to all citizens.

Emotions in the U.S. are raw now. That’s understandable. So it’s time for a reality check, which I’ve reduced to three salient points (although I welcome you to add more).

1. Societies in the Middle East really do have different worldviews. Take free speech. In the U.S., we cherish it. Sometimes we abuse it, but still we uphold it even when we fault the abusers. The Middle East? Someone—not Washington—made a hateful film about Muhammad. Most Americans condemn and dismiss it. Egyptians and Yemenis stormed our embassies. Sudanese forced their way into the German embassy. In Tripoli, Lebanon, one person has been killed in a protest. These stories are still unfolding. Political dissenters? I can yell “Screw Obama!” ‘til the cows come home. In the Middle East, dissenters face intimidation, imprisonment or death. Iranians and Syrians, among others, can tell you.

2. American power to foster change is limited. (Read Slick! for a satirical take on that.) The world is not a machine that can be repaired by a competent mechanic. In part, our options are restricted precisely because the Middle East is not like us. What we believe to be rational, progressive arguments often fall on deaf ears. Moreover, we’re condemned when we don’t step in (Egypt) and reviled after we do (Libya). Does anyone really want to send U.S. troops into Damascus?

3. The Middle East will remain a political and religious powder keg for a long, long time. Europe experienced centuries of bloodletting before achieving peace. The horrors of World War Two and the Holocaust are less than seven decades behind us. In the Middle East, the forces of Islamism (by which I mean theocratic dictatorship, not Islam) battle those seeking modernity, with or without a Muslim flair. Add to that Islamists battling among themselves. And stir in age-old clan, tribal and ethnic animosities. Can you say “Iraq?” With prudence, we can contain the fire. But only the people of the region can extinguish it.

Should we then turn our backs on the Middle East? No. The world is far too interconnected. Moreover, those of us who support Israel’s right to exist cannot risk a second Holocaust through disengagement. Let’s hope those in power or seeking power in Washington will adopt both perspective and patience. Because as we also saw this past week, a shot from the hip often lands in the foot.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

YOU’RE WELCOME

Periodically, a Muslim shares in the media a particularly wonderful bit of wisdom. So it was last week. Yet the speaker or writer always seems to remain unaware of that wisdom’s source. It’s borrowed from Judaism. Such recognition might help to eliminate the hatred that many Muslims exhibit towards Jews.

The Quran (Sura 5:32) states: “That  was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as punishment for murder or other wicked crimes, should be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life should be regarded as though he had saved all mankind.” (The Koran, Translated and with Notes by N.J Dawood, Penguin Books.)

This wisdom first appeared in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) edited by Rabbi Judah HaNasi from oral sources around 200 CE—over four centuries before Muhammad received ongoing revelations from the angel Jibril (Gabriel). It’s worth noting that the Quran makes no claim to originating this thought. Indeed, the Quran states that Islam is not a new religion at all. Rather, it represents a return to the original monotheism of Abraham from which Jews and Christians strayed. Sura 2:135 relates: “They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or the Christian faith and you shall be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater.’”

How interesting that while the Quran views Judaism as corrupted—the Torah may have come from God in some form but Jews wrote and thus distorted a good part of it—the Quran nonetheless includes a teaching from the Oral Law—corrupt by definition—enumerated 1,200 to 1,400 years after Moses. This poses an intriguing question: If the Oral Law regarding destroying or saving the world through a single individual is valid, how much else in the Mishnah also is valid? Muslims need not practice Judaism, of course. But should they condemn it?

I don’t bring this up to argue against Islam. If I believed that Muhammad received the Quran from the angel Jibril, I would be a Muslim. (If I believed that Jesus was crucified to cleanse humanity of original sin, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, I would be a Christian.) Clearly, Islam is not part of my belief system. But I find no need to discredit Islam or denigrate its practice other than to point to facets of Islam that may pose a clear and present danger to my freedom to live unmolested as a Jew.

Sadly, ignorance of the source of Sura 5:32 shrouds the similarities between Islam and Judaism, as well as Islam’s rich Jewish roots. Both Judaism and Islam are monotheistic religions sharing a core theology: God is one and indivisible. Jews and Muslims take different paths to the same destination.

In God’s Others, I cite Rabbi Elliot Dorff: “The claim to absolute knowledge of God’s will, then, accounts to a theologically improper egotism and/or idolatry.” For both Jews and Muslims, idolatry represents the ultimate abomination. May the coming years free all religions from claims of exclusive truth.

And if Muslims recognize in Judaism much in common, I offer a simple and heartfelt response. We worship the same God, and you’re more than welcome to share.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

INSULT TO HUMANITY

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, offers fascinating insights into the workings of the human mind in his book, The Social Animal. Brooks points to how we often judge people in milliseconds based on stimuli recognized only the subconscious. I had that experienced with a recent photo in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I immediately responded to the face of a man distorted by emotion—not so much anger as hatred. I knew who he was, where he was and what he was feeling. What I read confirmed what a glance told me. The man was an Iranian at a rally in Tehran protesting the existence of Israel.

We know the background. Iran has opposed Israel ever since the revolution of 1979 created a religious-dominated government. It has bankrolled and trained terrorists. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and most of the world believe that Iran seeks nuclear weapons—a charge Iran denies. Israel has declared its right to a conduct a preemptive attack to deter an existential threat. President Obama has stated that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons; American military action remains an option. Mitt Romney offers no disagreement. Tehran responds that it will target American military bases and ships in the Persian Gulf—and Israel, of course—should Israel and the West attack its nuclear facilities.

Geopolitics? And then some! But the face of the man in the photo did not reflect the age-old competition for land and resources. It displayed much more. Here’s why…

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bellowed, “The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” Opposing Israel’s existence is justified to “protect the dignity of all human beings.” Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust—which tells you something—called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.” Iran’s Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader—the latter term also tells you something—Ali Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be eliminated. Also last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted from Lebanon that precision-guided rockets could kill tens of thousands of Israelis. Military targets? No concern. Human beings? Let the slaughter begin.

So what’s the point? The very existence of a Jewish state on land Muslims once conquered offends God and brooks no toleration, no compromise.

Yes, Jews can hate, too. A few days ago, Jewish teens in Jerusalem engaged in several attacks on Arabs. One involved a severe beating. But here’s the difference: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately stated, “We are not prepared to tolerate racism in Israel.” President Shimon Peres declared, “I am full of shame and outrage… This is an intolerable incident of violence that we must uproot from our midst.” The vast majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide echoed their sentiments.

When Jews practice such hatred, they defame Judaism. Israel and the world Jewish community marginalizes them and justly so. Yet governmental and institutional hatred as expressed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others draws wide acceptance—or at best apathy—in the Muslim world. It often attains smug agreement in much of the rest of the world, too.

And it makes quite clear just who is insulting humanity.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT

From time to time, the leader of a Torah study session or Shabbat services will ask the group to come up with an Eleventh Commandment. (The Ten Commandments Moses received on Mount Sinai are well known but often misunderstood.) One of the earliest of these Eleventh Commandments was Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim’s instruction to survive as Jews and not give Hitler a posthumous victory. I have my own favorite Eleventh Commandment. It doesn’t seem as awesome, but I think it offers all of us some meaningful opportunities to make the world a better place.

Asked for such a commandment several years ago, I answered, “You shall cut each other some slack.” People laughed. Some may have considered it a goofball response. Granted, I’m quite capable of that. Not long after, I repeated my Eleventh Commandment at Friday-night services. More laughter greeted me. (Afterwards, a woman who has studied and taken classes with me provided a minority report that I really had something.) I suspect that on both occasions, those who heard my pronouncement thought it too humble—too simple—in regard to weightier subjects like avoiding idolatry, honoring parents, and not murdering, kidnapping and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife. On the other hand, my Eleventh Commandment may have made people uncomfortable. Human nature too often seems to resist cutting slack for others.

Case in point: My youngest son, Aaron, married Jeremy Kueffner last Friday in Stowe, Vermont. Aaron and Jeremy had been partners for several years. When Aaron broke the glass at the end of the ceremony—conducted by a justice of the peace—to maintain a link with Jewish tradition, a real marriage had taken place. Two people who love and complement each other had been joined as one.

My oldest son, Seth, put it best. (My middle son, Yosi, perhaps aping me, read from a children’s book with a very deep message about two people who love each other.) I can only give you the gist of Seth’s wedding comments, the most eloquent and moving I’ve ever heard. They went roughly like this: The U.S. just landed a new Mars Rover. It reminded Seth—a sci-buff—of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s position that creation contained many sentient life forms and our highest duty was to respect and protect each, to live in harmony within a great whole. Trust me, Seth put it better.

Of course, the families and friends gathered had no brief against the wedding of two men. But my Eleventh Commandment revealed itself in a somewhat unexpected but delightful way. My brother-in-law Michael is a small-town Texas conservative. He’s a practicing Catholic, too. But he came to the wedding. And he told me something as meaningful as anything Seth said. “I don’t approve of gay marriage. But I came here to support my nephew.”

Imagine how much better our world would be if everyone—in spite of disagreements—cut each other some slack. It’s not all that difficult. Because in doing so, we don’t have to accept each other’s beliefs. All we have to do is acknowledge them. As I wrote in God’s Others, different isn’t bad. It’s simply different.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

Some people believe that outrage in the name of religion—or religious hatred—only happens “there.” Not quite. But along with the bad news, there’s also good news.

In Cologne, Germany, a regional court banned circumcision for children stating that the procedure does bodily harm without consent. German Jews and Muslims—along with co-religionists worldwide—protested vociferously. For Jews, the Torah (Genesis 17:12) commands circumcision on the eighth day of life. The Qu’ran does not mention circumcision for Muslims, but circumcision remains a long-standing tradition carried out at different ages—often as young as seven days—depending on geographic, religious and cultural factors.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee—thirty miles from Nashville—American Muslims sued to be able to open a new Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in time for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last night. In September 2010, four residents of Rutherford County filed suit to block the mosque citing a “risk of terrorism generated by proselytizing for Islam and inciting the practices of Sharia law.” They insisted that the Islamic center not be approved until it demonstrated it was not interested in “the overthrow of the American system of government, laws and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Ignorance begets hatred. Religious majorities often know little or nothing about the minorities among them. And I’m not referring only to people in the “hinterlands.” I’ve found this to be true here in San Francisco. Anti-Semites around the world still condemn Jews as threats to the national order. And let’s not be naïve. Islam has generated a significant number of zealots who seek to impose their own religious views and practices. Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have suffered. But restricting legitimate religious practices offers no answer.

So, all this being stated, let’s give credit where it’s due. The German federal government opposes the circumcision ban. Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated, “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.” Ms. Merkel might have stated, “I do not want Germany to be morally offensive to the world,” but she made her point. Yesterday, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution protecting circumcision for religious reasons.

In the U.S. this week, the Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed lawsuits. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ruled that a final building inspection must be conducted to enable the mosque to open.

We frequently hear religious bodies in the U.S.—usually conservative—decry Washington’s restrictions on religious freedom. Concerns should be addressed. For example, discussions regarding providing insurance for abortions to employees at religious institutions opposed to abortion merit consideration. The issues are complex. But I would state that our government favors religious freedom—not for any particular group but for all. And it manages to act quite admirably to uphold religious thought and action provided believers do not impose their views on others.

That’s my take on the matter. Of course, when you’re part of a religious minority, you tend to view our Constitution as a document that does more than provide religious freedom on a selective basis.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

SMILING FACES

Life seems awfully confusing these days. So it’s only natural to believe that things were better “then”—when everyone (or so it seemed) liked Ike, watched “Ozzie and Harriet” and wore suits and hats (with gloves for the women) downtown. I have my doubts.

I call to witness the American Conservatory Theater’s production of the Kander and Ebb musical, “The Scottsboro Boys.” Being a lover of satire, I liked that the musical was written as a minstrel show, in which whites historically donned blackface and followed a formal pattern of presentation. Except that all the actors but Hal Linden were black and often played whites. The music was good, the cast and staging great, and the character of the Interlocutor, who runs the minstrel show (Linden), thought provoking.

A brief history lesson: In 1931, police arrested nine Negro teenagers getting off a freight train in Scottsboro, Alabama on a trumped-up rape charge. The musical takes us into their initial trial and the appeals that followed. The Scottsboro Boys avoided lynching and the electric chair but were all imprisoned for varying lengths of time—years, not months—and gravely wounded by the legal process given that the charges were untrue and one of the two plaintiffs recanted.

And the Interlocutor? Representing the powers that be in the Jim Crow South (and costumed as Colonel Sanders), he is unfailingly polite and cheerful in his encounters with the “boys.” The Interlocutor makes clear that in Alabama, whites and Negroes have their places, and the natural order is benign. When confronted by one of the “boys’” desire to go north, he is stunned. “We’ve always taken care of you,” he states, “and we always will.” Proving that fact and fiction (or drama) go hand in hand, Edward Glaeser (Triumph of the City) cites the mayor of Baltimore, who after a 1910 law prevented African-Americans from buying homes in affluent white neighborhoods, “announced that the law’s supporters were ‘the best friends that the colored people have.’”

The portrait of kindly white society acting as caretaker for “its” Negroes is not new. And it couldn’t have seemed particularly valid if you were a Negro confined to “colored” neighborhoods, restaurants, drinking fountains, waiting rooms and the back of the bus. By the way, one of the show’s numbers, “Jew Money”—the Scottsboro Boys’ appeals lawyer was Jewish—also informs us of attitudes many southerners held regarding “their Jews:” know your place.

But why the Interlocutor’s constant smile, the patter, the jokes? Because the worst aspects of prejudice and injustice come in sugarcoated packages to distort reality. “We love you. We only want the best for you. Just trust us!” provides a handy cover for behavior that’s the opposite. And such remarks are so easy to make.

As we approach the presidential nominating conventions (orgies of self-congratulations during which delegates wield no influence) and the traditional Labor Day start of the campaign (which started last Labor Day, and I’m being generous), it’s worth noting that voters will be offered plenty of smiles and words of good cheer. But unless citizens demand more, the nation’s wellbeing is still likely to be shuffled off, if ever so amiably, and most Americans gently herded to the back of the bus.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

DIRTY LAUNDRY

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on

You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone

Just leave well enough alone, keep your dirty laundry

“Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley, released 1982

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Chip Johnson asks why so many Oaklanders focus on the killing of a young Black man in Florida, Trayvon Martin, because the alleged killer was not Black. Yet Blacks kill fellow Blacks on Oakland’s streets in alarming numbers. The truth can be hard to face. I recall the turbulent ‘Sixties ‘60s when some Blacks boasted they could not be racist since they’d been oppressed. And to hell with Whitey if he disagreed.

All groups have dirty laundry. Asians often are portrayed as America’s model minority. But ask San Francisco’s crime task force if what happens in Chinatown and other parts of the city keep them busy. The recent killing of five Asian Americans near City College by a Vietnamese ex-convict informs us that we’re all different just the same.

Jews included. America alone produced Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine, and dozens of Nobel Prize-winning scientists; Supreme Court justices like Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo; entertainers like Fanny Brice, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand—not to mention rockers like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed; authors Philip Roth and Grace Paley; and baseball greats Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax; plus countless business people, professionals, artists, factory workers and auto mechanics.

Other names resonate in American-Jewish history, too: Jacob Levinsky, Dopey Fein, Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Abe Bernstein and Moe Dalitz. Not a Ph.D. among them. They and many others made their mark in organized crime. Eastern-European immigrants, of whom I am a descendant, did not always find America the Goldene Medina—the Golden Land.

Truth be told, we Jews have our share of dirty laundry. Today, of course, we’re rarely involved in violent crime. But Jews on Wall Street—mixed with plenty of non-Jews—played a role in the subprime mortgage mess that shattered our economy. Nowhere is it written that to be Jewish is not to be human. Rather, as I wrote last week, we are tasked to overcome the yetzer hara—the bad impulse. Our record is impressive but not perfect.

Witness some of our cousins in Israel last Monday. According to the Jerusalem Post, some 300 fans of the Betar Jerusalem soccer club, following a victory over Tel Aviv B’nei Yehuda, attacked Arab workers at the Malcha Mall. They also chanted racist fight songs. Betar fans apparently have a reputation for anti-Arab outbursts.

But another aspect of this story bears telling. Wednesday night, 150 protestors gathered at the mall to support the rights of all Israelis. And Israeli police arrested 16 suspects. Six were brought to court and face indictment next week. The resolution may not be perfect. There’s lots of work to do in Israel regarding anti-Arab sentiment. And God knows, just chipping away at anti-Jewish sentiment in the Muslim world will take Herculean effort.

So another truth must be declared. The more we expose dirty laundry to fresh air, the easier it is to get it clean.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

FOCUS ON WHOSE FAMILY?

I saw a TV commercial last week featuring small children quoting and commenting on John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have life eternal.”  Now, I have no brief with people of any religion expressing their faith. But did the kids in the commercial have any grounding in the complexities of theology, or did they merely serve as cute mouthpieces for what adults have scripted for them? I think I know the answer.

Who brought us this message? Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian organization founded in 1977 by James Dobson. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Focus on the Family’s advertising theme is “helping families thrive.” Now I like the concept of family. Carolyn and I have three adult children. We stay close to my extended family, too. Family represents one of our closest-held values.

But what families does Focus on the Family actually focus on? If their TV ads brought us messages advocating parents being responsible for their children’s wellbeing and playing active roles in their lives (so many don’t), honoring one’s father and mother by being helpful around the house as children and being attuned to elderly parents’ needs as adults, and the joy of extended families sharing various milestones and celebration—if the ads did that, I’d say, amen.

Not that the commercial addressed any of that. Its focus was singular: The only religious truth is that Jesus is humanity’s savior; everyone should be a Christian. I saw no recognition of the universality of family values—and I don’t mean conservative social issues, such as banning abortion and gay marriage that the Christian right wants to impose politically.

As it happens, Jews prize family values. So do Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and people of other religions—and of no religion. Of course, too many people fail their families. They cheat on their spouses. Beat or abuse their spouses and children. Squander family resources on alcohol, drugs and gambling. Or desert the ones they’re supposed to love and cherish. So any advertising that reminds us of our family responsibilities and the important role they play in keeping strong the nation’s social fabric is welcome. But America is composed of all kinds of people and all kinds of families. These “others” also deserve recognition and respect.

The Christian right complains with great frequency that it does not receive this kind of respect from the rest of the nation. How can it? In the name of the one, universal God, it divides humanity into “us” and “them.”

The Talmud teaches that God created all humanity out of Adam/Eve so that no one could say that his ancestor was greater than anyone else’s (Sanhedrin 4:5). Likewise, taking an absolute approach—believing that “our” religion is right and all others are thus by definition not different but wrong—shames rather than praises God. As Rabbi Elliot Dorff, one of Judaism’s leading ethicists, warns, absolutism in itself is “tantamount to idolatry.” Focus on the Family might do well to focus on that.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.


FAMILY

Libyan rebels have taken the Tripoli compound of Muammar el-Qaddafi (New York Times spelling). The Libyan poet and writer Khaled Darwish wrote in a Times op-ed piece yesterday, “My son Mohammad waved our new flag of independence in one hand and held a martyr’s picture in the other as he chanted, ‘The blood of martyrs is not spilled in vain.’” We can all respond, “Amen.” But while we can hope that a brighter future awaits Libya, we cannot know.

Couples often endure nine long months of pregnancy anticipating that at the moment of birth, their trials will end. But as parents know, birth is just the beginning. The future, despite our dreams and plans, remains uncertain, and each day takes tremendous effort.

So it will be with Libya. The nation must build the institutions of a civil and workable society virtually from scratch. To do it, Libyans from a variety of factions—political and tribal—will have to find common ground to avoid turning their country into another Iraq. This will require a new sense of openness—of family—marked by accepting others’ differences and compromise. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I would hold out to Libyans the much smaller example of my synagogue, San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel.

I wrote an ad running in today’s J., the Jewish Weekly of Northern California, based on Sherith Israel’s winning the J.’s Readers’ Award for “Best Interfaith Programming.” The headline states: “We’re not all Jewish. But we’re family.” Interfaith, in my opinion, constitutes a misnomer. Sherith Israel is, after all, a synagogue for Jewish worship, study and celebration. (We partake in social justice, too, but this also is true of churches, mosques, and other houses of worship.) That being said, our synagogue is not only for Jews.

We have long welcomed non-Jewish spouses and partners into our temple family. There’s no pressure to convert—and many don’t—although we offer a yearly course on Jewish basics for Jews and non-Jews wishing to learn more. The range of genetic and cultural backgrounds often startles visitors. But we’re unified by our commitment to Jewish families even if that commitment is expressed on a broad continuum of observance.

The fact is, our non-Jewish spouses and partners tend to be highly supportive of Sherith Israel. Many play active roles in the congregation within some limitations. (You have to be Jewish to serve on the board or chair a committee.) Non-Jewish parents promote their children’s Jewish education and identity as did my wife, Carolyn, as our three children went through Religious School, became bar and bat mitzvah and then were confirmed leading to lengthy summer trips to Israel.

Alas, the concept of family in an extended context—of focusing on what binds all of us rather than what divides—is not found everywhere in American society. Thus Libya confronts a serious challenge. May they and us come to see each other all as members of the human family just as the Torah teaches us that we are all—Jews and not—the children of the same Creator.

For a take on family regarding Muslims in America, see Jill Waldman’s wonderful short story, “The Submission,” in the September Atlantic magazine.

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