Getting Beyond Tolerance

Yesterday on the front page of the New York Times, there were two alarming stories:

First, a story about a cruise liner tipping in the Mediterranean and passengers frantically jumping ship in hopes of survival.

Second, a story about the rift between secular and religious in Israel and how this rift is the most threatening shift in ideology facing the Jewish nation today.

Both are about a sinking ship, in a way – one literal, the other metaphorical. I firmly believe that when there is a message we are intended to hear, it keeps cropping up in front of us until we are forced to listen.

This message of distorting Judaism – which extrapolates to any extreme version of religion today – is loud and clear. Everywhere I turn, I hear of incidents involving ultra-religious folks tormenting, yelling, spitting, hitting or otherwise violently disapproving of their brethren.

We are all related, you know. We are a collective humanity, and the minute our kindness and compassion sails away into the clouds, we downgrade to mere animal state.

Who cares what someone else believes? Who cares what goes on inside a person’s home, inside their mind? If religion is above all else a relationship between human and God, then why does it matter what any other soul on the planet does to effect that intimate relationship?

And yet, we see the tormenting continue.

In Israel, 1 million of its 7.8 million population are haredi, or ultra-orthodox. That same population has more kids than the average family, less income than the average family, and takes more in government subsidies.

They are the ones insisting that women are inferior, that there should be segregation on buses, in auditoriums, perhaps even walking down the street.

On this, the day when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all that he advocated and stood for, we must be very, very cautious of any people advocating separation and segregation. We must remember the damage done by previous generations pointing fingers at those they deemed other and less than.

We must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. Always.

We must speak up when we witness unfairness or hatred. Whether it is a bully on a Saturday in synagogue or a government minister mandating that a deserving scholar not receive her award because women are not allowed on stage with men, we must stand up and speak up.

It doesn’t matter if doing what is right makes you unpopular. Would you rather be popular in the eyes of small-minded people or make waves standing for something that matters? I know my answer. Make sure you know yours.

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