PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – July 2017
I am writing this month’s message one day after the despicable shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. It was directed toward a group of Republican lawmakers and staff who were practicing for a charity baseball game against a team of Democratic lawmakers and staff. As I write, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is undergoing a third surgery as a result of his gunshot wound. I join with all people of good-will in praying for a complete healing for Rep. Scalise and all who were injured in the attack.
Since the shooting, Democratic and Republican leaders have talked about the need to ratchet down the political rhetoric and reintroduce civility to debate and discourse. Some have observed that this could mark a turning point in our country, the rise of a desire to bridge the gap of division that has so profoundly affected our country over the past few decades. We know that polarization has stymied the function of our government and has led to anxiety, anger, and isolation among our population. Many of us have lost friends and become alienated from relatives due to our differing political views. But even as our legislative leaders started talking about restoring cooperation and consideration in the governmental process, angry works and accusations were flying on social media. For example, on Facebook I read posts by conservatives accusing liberals of rejoicing over the attack and liberals saying Republicans have only themselves to blame for the shooting.
Why is it that “the better nature of our angels” is so often overwhelmed by anger, accusation, and mistrust? Why does the phrase, “we all want what is best for our country” all too often ring hollow? It seems we are all too in love with our own view of the world to allow for the possibility that the views of others might have some validity.
Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills recently wrote:
Judaism teaches that you need to both stand by your principles and compromise at the same time. But before you even get there, you need to listen to the other point of view. The Talmud tells us that while the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry, sexual immorality, and violence, the Second Temple was destroyed because of incivility, baseless hatred, and the inability to listen to each other. Compromise is a high value; the reason we affix a mezuzah at an angle is because of compromise. Rashi taught that the mezuzah should be placed vertically; his grandson Rabbeinu Tam thought it should be horizontal. That’s why our mezuzzot are tilted at an angle. A subliminal message from this compromise is that shalom bayit, peace in the home, requires that everyone in a home be willing to compromise.
I have chaired enough Temple board meetings to know that when people hold tightly to opposite opinions, it can result in argument, anger, and an increase in volume, but rarely in progress. At least in such a small forum, people can admit that both sides have the best interest of the Temple at heart and debate generally results in handshakes by the end of the meeting. It is much more difficult for countrymen to put down their shields and allow that those whose beliefs differ from theirs still have the good of the nation at heart.
Perhaps, in light of the violent attack on our political institutions, the Independence Day holiday will provide an opportunity to demonstrate that, even as our founders argued, debated, and compromised to form our country, today we too can argue, debate, and compromise. We can once again learn to reach out a hand of friendship as compatriots and acknowledge that we all have the desire for “a more perfect union.”
— IRA L. GOLDSTEIN, President