While living in Los Angeles, I experienced my first earthquake in a big food court across the street from HUC. I was sitting by myself at a small Formica table, eating a sandwich and reading a book while slurping a cup of coffee. There was a loud noise followed by the sensation of movement. Then it wasn’t just a sensation. Everything started moving. Everything. The ground, the suspended light fixtures, the floor, the walls: everything. I didn’t know what the next step was supposed to be, other than searching out the nearest exit. I waited and watched how the native Angelenos were going to handle it.
Nobody kept eating. People made their way to the exit, so I made mine. I staggered a bit, seeking some steadiness, something to hold onto. But there was nothing to hold on to that wasn’t already moving. There was no stability to be found.
It feels like I’m living in an earthquake zone. I keep trying to find firm footing, only to be struck with a sense of vertigo. The institutions I have always looked up to for direction and authority, whether I agreed or disagreed with them, are mired in controversy and scandal. The national institutions of justice are criticized as partisan and crooked. The press, the guardian of democracy, is accused of being ‘fake news.’
Collaborative government, consensus building, compromise, are all dead on a national level. We are left with a vital question: where is there stability? What’s happening?
When a mentally unbalanced tv actress tweets that a black woman is the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood and an ape, and there’s anything other than a mad rush to condemn her awful racism, something is wrong. That her tweet could be compared to Samantha Bee’s odious comment about Ivanka Trump, or to Bill Mahrer’s statement that the president is an orangutan, is willful ignorance. Bee’s statement was crude; Mahrer’s was foolish. But Roseanne’s comment was straight up racism, and she deserved to be canned.
Then, of course, there’s the embarrassing fact that she’s Jewish. I don’t care who she votes for, and I don’t care who she makes fun of for a laugh. That’s her job. But when she – or anyone else – spouts racist or antisemitic sentiments, as she has in the past, by the way, that’s where we part company. That’s where we, as a community, draw a line. It’s not a bold thing to say, I know. But it is a necessary statement to reiterate.
To call oneself a Jew is to acknowledge a special obligation to the world. It’s not an exclusivist phenomenon. It’s a response to being a light to the nations. And being a light is not passive. Of necessity, it puts us in front, on the ramparts. That’s where Jews belong, seeking to be a light, rather than adding to the darkness.
That’s why we’re here: to do our best to be a rudder, a correcting force in the face of a full assault on diversity. It’s a big job, and someone’s got to do it.