Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Freedom From Manipulation

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

As longtime Music Director for a synagogue, alongside all the months of preparation, for me personally the Jewish High Holiday services officially begin with a private moment between the Rabbi and I, just before the start of the Erev Rosh Hashanah service.

Together we look at the people seated on the pulpit who’ve worked so hard to make these moments the best they can be – choir members of all ages, musicians, temple officials, volunteers – and then out at the substantial audience of good people of our congregation. We inevitably say to each other, “Look at where we are… look at what we get to do. Surely we are two of the luckiest guys on the planet.”

In the truest sense of the term, for us, High Holiday services are a real “coming together” of people. I was made to realize the miracle of that phenomenon even more so at dinner a few nights later.

For too long, a cherished friend and I who’ve known each other all our lives hadn’t managed to spend time together. No deliberate omissions, just two guys whose busy schedules had kept them distracted. We finally decided to remedy the situation with a dinner out, joined by our far-better-looking-than-we-deserve Significant Others.

It started off great, catching-up on each other’s lives, hearing about kids’ exploits and mutual trials, travels and tribulations. But then the talk turned to politics.

In this case, not a good choice.

In a matter of minutes, the conversation had gone from kind and spirited to frustrated and confrontational. We were suddenly divided onto opposite sides, arguing our individual beliefs of what’s wrong and right with the world, feeling disbelief and disappointment at the other’s point of view.

Things eventually calmed down, but it wasn’t the same. As we parted at the end of the evening, instead of the anticipated feelings of warmth and gratitude, there was an air of discomfort and disappointment.

The good news is that after all this time, the friendship of my pal and I is unshakeable. I wrote a little note to him the next day, and a phone call from him a few hours after that soothed things over. We’ve all now got a better sense of what topics to avoid the next time.

But it occurred to me how so much of the world wants to divide you and I. Don’t get me wrong: I think we’re ultimately defined by our convictions and willingness to stick by them. But it’s patently clear that there’s a media culture out there which fosters intolerance and encourages fear and hate. Political ads aren’t about respectful disagreement anymore – they’re about destroying the other guy. The implication is that if someone disagrees with you, they’re ignorant scum.  With instant access to the blogosphere and social media a fingertip away, susceptibility to this venom is unprecedentedly inescapable.

There’s no denying that the stakes in the world are huge – the economy, the perils in the Mideast… you know ’em all. But for those whose childhood memories include the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy and King  assassinations and the Viet Nam War, we recall that there was plenty of fear then too. All of us wondered if we were on the brink of nuclear war or revolution or collapse.

But back then I don’t remember so much hate being cultivated in every arena. I remember finger-pointing, but we didn’t define each other’s souls by our political points of view.

I was so upset by the goings on at dinner the night before that the next day I felt a need to go someplace – any place that had a spiritual feel about it. Major freeway construction prohibited a trip from the Valley to any of the Westside Jewish museums to which I might naturally gravitate, so eventually my fiance’ and I wound-up walking around the nearby historic San Fernando Mission.

It’s a calm, serene place with a lot of gardens and exhibits of things past. We were told that if we wanted to include a visit to the historic church on the grounds, we should wait a few minutes as there was a Quincearera wrapping-up in the sanctuary.

When we did get over there a little later, all the dressing-up and happiness reminded me of an Hispanic Bat Mitzvah. Same love. Same parental pride. Same appreciation of God and family.

We walked into the old church and sat down. Along with the expected crucifixes, there was remarkable historic architecture and, for me, an undeniable comfort of being in a House of God. I pulled out a prayer book and looked-up what the reading would be for the week.

It began: “The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the Lord bestowed it on the seventy elders; and in the spirit came to rest on them….”

It was the Old Testament. For me as a Jew, substitute “Adonai” for “The Lord” and it was the Torah – my Torah.

And it was exactly what I was looking for – a Divine reminder that we’re still really all the same – that those who seek to manipulate us and use our fear to divide us are conscienceless salesmen  – and we don’t have to buy what they’re selling.

I hope we all vote for the political candidates of our choice. I hope we are all passionate and work hard in constructive ways for the policies we believe in.  But I also hope we remember that, as Americans and citizens of the world, we’re in this together. I still believe the weathered old adage that “United we stand, divided we fall”.

And I intend to avoid as much media manipulation and sensationalism as I can. I have faith that, like it or not, in the end things are gonna turn out the way God wants them to. And I hope I’m never again so manipulated that I let my opinions get in the way of treasured friendships.

In Judaism, a new year has just begun.  One of the common Hebraic expressions of good wishes is “L’Shana tovah”.

To everyone, regardless of the calendar you observe:  L’Shana tovah.  Here’s to a time of courage, conviction, compassion and tolerance.