BY RABBI RON HERSTIK / AJT //
As I prepare for the Yamim Nora-yim, the Days of Awe, I engage in “Hesbon Nefesh” (soul searching) even more intensely than usual.
I am overwhelmed by events, too numerous to list, that are consequential to our nation, to the Jewish community, and to Israel. And as I survey the landscape, it’s impossible for me to look on this past year without crying out, “Car fifty-Four where are you?”
In the time that I have been a voting adult – I am speeding toward my 64th birthday – never, to my recollection, have I seen the kind of political and cultural divide that permeates the fabric of our society.
Indeed, class warfare is taking place!
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You can see it the incessant attack on Social Security and Medicare and other so-called entitlements. These battles threaten the programs themselves and with time they are eroding our collective will to help and care for each other.
It’s obscene to hear the misinformation and to witness the fierce opposition by the Republican Party to the health care legislation, popularly called “Obamacare” or properly, The Affordable Health Care Act.
It’s indisputable that Americans desperately need a means to survive astronomical, ever escalating, healthcare costs. But with all the baloney that is served up about the catastrophe that will befall us when the legislation takes effect, there’s no hint of anything beyond privatization as the remedy to all our problems.
For all the posturing by the Right about the wonderful health care system we have in this country and the fear mongering about “death panels” should Obamacare be fully implemented, our medical care is in reality controlled by private for-profit insurance companies whose fundamental reason for existence is to make money – and lots of it.
By now you’ve probably surmised not only that I speak bluntly, but in the course of doing so I reveal myself to be liberal socially and progressive politically.
I add quickly, my Jewish tradition, particularly the prophetic demand to support and not abandon the “widow, the orphan and the stranger,” is the core of my expression as a human being.
Judaism teaches, “Justice, justice shall you pursue . . .” For some of our kids it’s hard to find justice. A black youngster walks through a neighborhood and a would-be policeman follows him, packing a gun, and shoots the kid dead.
Thank you Florida legislature for your “Stand Your Ground” law: if you feel that you might suffer serious bodily injury or that your life is threatened, shoot!
Yes, I have listened to both sides of the argument aplenty and my conclusion is that George Zimmerman created circumstances that cascaded out of control and led him to kill Treyvon Martin. He is a guy who should not have owned a gun in the first place. And we should rightly regard him as a murderer.
The obsession with guns of all types and the money behind their sales is a story in itself. The NRA makes money off gun sales – what do you know!
They get a kickback from domestic gun manufacturing companies for every gun that’s sold. The Second Amendment is distorted by mega-bucks and special interests, and when the word goes out that the government, meaning Barak Obama, is going to take your guns away, people pile into gun stores and purchase guns, large capacity clips, and plenty of ammo.
Guns are not our only obsession. There was a time when noblesse oblige was considered to be one of the core values of those who were blessed with wealth; to what extent it was practiced is irrelevant, for at least it existed as part of people’s vocabulary.
It was recognized as an obligation to “behave respectfully or kindly towards others.” But no longer is even the pretense made of such an ideal among those who have come to populate the most reactionary, extreme wing of Conservatism and the Republican Party.
There is no compromise and an absolute proclivity for brinkmanship. Need a few examples; well, how about refusing to raise the Debt Ceiling or negotiating the Sequester to a conclusion that will prevent people from losing their jobs.
Many Conservatives say, “We get our way or else!” Like Samson, they’ll tear the palace down and let it fall on everybody’s head.
Whether it’s the Debt Ceiling or how to reduce the deficit–which is falling every day–or how to increase the number of much needed jobs for Americans, and how to deal both pragmatically and compassionately with “illegal” immigrants, there is no compromise, only fierce obstructionism pouring out from House Republicans.
What happened to us? What has permeated our collective mentality?
As I see it, we as a society have increasingly developed a kind of punitive state of mind and just plain meanness towards the less fortunate and the poor. It’s a complex energized by anger and frustration that what we have, what we are entitled to will be taken away from us by those who don’t even deserve it.
So here we are; the Days of Awe draw near. Let us open our eyes and honestly assess our own place on the ladder and determine if we are standing on the hand of another human being who is hanging on for dear life.
And then make it our sacred obligation to keep that someone from falling into the abyss by extending our hand and lifting him and her up. This is hardly a novel proposal that I proffer, for this is what Hillel had in mind some two thousand years ago when he taught: “If I am not for myself who will be for me; and if I am only for myself what am I; and if not now, when?”
Better said and even better practiced.
May you and yours celebrate the High Holidays with introspection, honesty and the courage to act. Shanah Tovah and may you be inscribed for a life of worthwhileness and wholeness for the coming year.