Monthly Archives: November 2017

Sexual Harassment, What Else?

I resonated to a Times column by Michelle Goldberg, 11/20, when Al Franken was that week’s top newsmaker in the never-ending and sad sex harassment story. I quote: “It’s easy to condemn morally worthless men like Trump; it’s much harder to figure out what should happen to men who make valuable political and cultural contributions, and whose alleged misdeeds fall far short of criminal. Learning about all the seemingly good guys who do shameful things is what makes this moment, with its frenzied pace of revelations, so painful and confounding. Personally [Goldberg continues], I’m torn by competing impulses. I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker.”

And later in her piece, “Adding to the confusion is the way so many different behaviors are being lumped together. Weinstein’s sadistic serial predation isn’t comparable to Louis C.K.’s exhibitionism. The groping Franken has been accused of isn’t in the same moral universe as Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. It seems perverse that Franken could be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.”

I think we all find this issue a painful and confounding one. Do I have anything new to say about it? Maybe about how we judge these matters, for which there are two rules that I would apply. First is the rule of three, taught to me by Congregant C, a very fine professional management coach. If you hear the same feedback from three different people, whether it’s positive or negative, you have to take it seriously. So, with Harvey Weinstein, for example, or Bill Cosby, an earlier example, there is more than ample reason to take the accusations seriously. But what about Al Franken, (just) two accusations last time I checked? Do we speak of the three of them in the same breath?

The other rule is the rule of one, taught to me by the Torah. Moses led the Jewish people, an obstinate stubborn complaining lot of ex-slaves, for forty years in the Wilderness. He responded to their many issues, he argued with God Who several times had had enough of their murmuring and wanted to start anew, and he made it all work under the most difficult conditions. But, in one brief moment, Moses lost his patience and struck a rock (to get water for his people) instead of speaking to it as commanded.. The result: no Promised Land for Moses. One single slip up in forty years! From this I learned that people in high places, as great or as important as they may be, don’t have any margin of error. Such is the price, says the Torah, for whatever glory or riches come with that high place. Not that Moses even had glory or riches.

Which rule do you like – the rule of three or the rule of one? Or maybe together they are the real rule? Something to ponder at this very perplexing time.         Best, Bill Rudolph

 

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Attitude of Gratitude

Next week I promise, bli neder (without really promising because taking an oath can be dangerous) to talk about the unending news about sexual harassment and the rule of three and the rule of one. It’s erev Thanksgiving, how can I not talk about the holiday which makes us Jews feel the most at home in America – which is followed by the beginning of the Christmas season, where we feel most out of step of any time in the year?

Gail prepared a great Religious School lesson on gratitude for this past Sunday in Warrenton. It was Family Education time. We also hosted the Sheriff of Fauquier County as we expressed appreciation to first responders. The most interesting part for me was the time with the parents separate from their kids. Gail began that part of the morning with a nice exercise where we went around the circle and people offered something for which they have felt grateful since they got out of bed that morning. We heard things like “all the body parts were working” and “my husband didn’t wake me up when he went off to work at 5AM” [on a Sunday!] and “thank God for Amazon Prime!” After one circuit, we went around again, and then again. It got a little more difficult each time, but with limited time we didn’t find out how far we could go. Jewish tradition asks us to say 100 blessings each day. The siddur provides many ready-made blessings, but we are supposed to be original too. This tradition makes for good practice in counting our blessings, in developing an attitude of gratitude. As Cicero, who davvened in the Roman quarter, put it, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Or, if you prefer country music, Willie Nelson put it this way: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” I recommend the circle exercise as a conversation starter going around the Thanksgiving table, as we did in Warrenton.

Among the millions of google entries under “I Am Thankful,” I like this one that I first heard during our annual Interfaith service with the Methodists across the street. Tonight is around the 50th time BTW.

I am thankful for the mess to clean up after a party, because it means that I have been surrounded by friends.
I am thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means that I have enough to eat.
I am thankful for a lawn that needs mowing and gutters that need cleaning, because it means I have a home.
I am thankful for the parking spot I finally find at the far end of the lot at the Mall, because it means I am capable of walking.

Etc.  There are many more entries to this list. If we really know how to look for them, we can find an awful lot of things to be thankful for, even things that may drive us nuts at times. The capacity to see blessings comes easily to some, requires a lot of practice for others.

More than anything else, even the pecan pie, Thanksgiving offers an annual chance to remember, or to recalibrate, our capacity for gratitude. People who find blessings in life are much happier than those who see mostly the hassles – studies have shown it, and I have seen it firsthand countless times.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, hopefully in the company of good friends and family, with gratitude for the blessings we all have.       Bill Rudolph

Please Don’t Let It Be a Muslim

Rami Abadi was hanging out at a hookah bar in Paterson NJ when he heard the news of the recent terrorist attack in the bike lanes of lower Manhattan. Like others in his community interviewed by Post journalists, his immediate reaction to the news was simple: “Please don’t let it be a Muslim.” Interestingly, I had the same reaction. And, as horrible as it was, I found myself being “thankful” that the church shooting in Texas was not perpetrated by a Muslim.

So, how do we Jews react when a Jew commits a high profile crime? Think Ivan Boesky or Bernie Madoff, or now Harvey Weinstein. Or think a former Israeli Prime Minister and President, in jail simultaneously. Do we wish these weren’t Jews? I surely do. Others I talk to are mostly not as concerned, or more selective – eg. what Madoff did plays on historical images of the Jewish goniff whereas Weinstein is embarrassing to men but not necessarily to Jews.

Why my reaction? I have some theories, not sure which is operative:
1. It’s the old mah yomru hagoyyim? “What will the Gentiles say?” Think of Jacob’s response to his sons killing all the Hivite men in Shechem after the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:30) Minorities worry about their place in the society and how their neighbors perceive them. Jews are no different.
2. “Is it good for the Jews?” The classic prism by which people like me judge the actions of Jewish people.
3. It’s an embarrassment when a member of our tribe acts so poorly. (This is somewhat like #1 but the tribal element is different.)
4. On the deepest level, where did we go wrong? Is there something in Jewish culture or religion that leads to, or justifies, wrongdoing, or rationalizes it?

You will tell me if there are more theories to be considered. In the meantime, I don’t think theory #1 should be in play here. We are well accepted in this society (thank G-d) and are blessed (I believe) with not having to worry that we will be judged by the behavior of a few of us. On #2, maybe. On #4, I don’t think there is anything inherent in Judaism or Jewish life that justifies or rationalizes bad behavior. Theory #3 may be most on target, especially if we think Jews have a mission to be a light to the nations, but it is interesting to understand (from my conversations with millennials ) that younger Jews are not nearly as tribal as my generation and don’t own that these bad actors have much to do with them.

Is my reaction, hoping the latest crook or jerk isn’t Jewish, then age- related and, barring the unforeseen, Jews won’t have it much longer? Or is it just that I am a rabbi and worry about the Jewish people 24/7? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic.
Best regards and Shabbat Shalom.       Bill Rudolph