In some ways my opinions become more conservative with time: We don't read enough; television, the internet and the overabundance of marketing are deadening are hearts and souls; we need Mandatory National Service; the threats against our nation's values are real and need to be confronted with strength and determination; more Jewish practice and Hebrew usage will preserve the Jewish people, not less.
And in other ways my opinions become more progressive with time: The disparities between rich and poor continue to grow at an alarming rate; our economic policies are inherently inequitable; our foreign wars are a distraction from our domestic agenda; and more inter-ethnic and inter-religious understanding is needed in this world, not less.
But waking up this morning to read the news about more protests at Ground Zero for and against the proposed Islamic Center; seeing the faces of the protesters, reading their comments and their signs, followed by the latest outlandish statements made by another politician--this time New York candidate for Governor, Rick Lazio--cashing in on the anger and the racism and the propensity for fear-mongering, I thought of one of my favorite texts from Pirke Avot, the rabbinic tract of ethics popularly read during Elul and the time period approaching Rosh Hashanah.
Shimon ben Gamliel said, 'All my life I have grown up among the Sages, and I have found nothing better for a person but silence. And the expounding of the Law is not the most important thing but the practice of it; and whoever speaks excessively causes sin.' (Pirke Avot, 1.17)The noise of the debate has risen above the din of daily life here in New York; it has been fed to media outlets across the world; and now, it seems, everyone is screaming about the Muslim 92ST Y going up downtown, as if moderate, tolerant, interfaith practicing, coalition-building, peace-making Muslims were the ones who guided planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. They were not. And no one ever said they were. Except the hysterical screamers, in leadership positions, who are not leading but being led by their worst impulses.
The Times' Michael Grynbaum had a great little vignette in his coverage of the protests yesterday. Describing a scene among countering protesters in which passions and anger became inflamed, one man, who had threatened a 27 year old medical student named Michael Rose, came forward voluntarily when his emotions subsided to apologize to Rose. Grynbaum described it as follows:
Then the man stuck out a hand and, in a terse voice, said, “I’m sorry.”While it's likely true that without police presence, there would have been violence yesterday. Force has long been a necessary partner of civic political engagement. However, it speaks volumes that beyond the cacophony, two opponents of an idea shook hands and granted one another's right to express it.
“You have a right,” he told Mr. Rose. (He would not give his name.) “I am sorry for what I said to you. I disagree with you completely, but you have a right.”
The 'practice' of the Law has been heard. Park51 has a legal right to be built and a coalition of established and well-respected politicians, religious leaders and perhaps most important, a local community board that has voted in favor, all support it. Why is that a supposed "conservative" political leadership in this city and nation, continually seek to overturn a legal process with hysteria and bigotry? Who's revolution are witnessing, exactly?