May 2014 Bulletin Article — Speaking Out Against Bigotry

April 30, 2014
By bethmordecai
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May 2014 Bulletin Article — Speaking Out Against Bigotry

Normally I use this space to talk about a matter or an idea specifically concerning our community in order to reflect on our journey of building our Jewish Home for the Soul. However, this month I feel compelled to speak out on a matter that though not particular to our community affects our identity as a Jewish community. And that matter is the Jewish need to speak out against bigotry, particularly the bigotry espoused by Donald Sterling who is the owner of the professional basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling, and a man who self-identifies as a Jew. On Sunday, the world heard an audio recording in which Mr. Sterling implores his multiracial girlfriend, V. Stiviano, to “don’t bring black people” to Clipper games. This comment is made among other condescending and racist remarks, including ones aimed at his own players (“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them?”). Perhaps this incident received such greater media attention than other examples of bigotry and racism because it took place while the Clippers, an excellent team and a possible contender for the NBA Championship, were playing in the first round of the playoffs. The players responded to the remarks with a silent protest in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series by wearing their warm up jerseys inside out (thus, hiding the name “Clippers”) and wearing black armbands and socks for the game. But I don’t think that’s why I feel so compelled to respond as a rabbi to this incident. I think I feel so compelled because of a poignant remark on a Jewish value made not by Mr. Sterling, but by his girlfriend:

“Isn’t it wrong? Wasn’t it wrong then? With the Holocaust? And you’re Jewish, you understand discrimination?”

This last question should resonate within the heart of all Jews. Whether it’s because of the Holocaust, or because of our understanding of the long history of anti-semitism, or because of particular incidents, which we encountered at school, on the playground, or at work, as Jews we should get discrimination. What’s more though, by invoking the Holocaust Ms. Stiviano is reminding us that the lessons of our discrimination, whether by the hand of Nazi SS officers or Egyptian taskmasters, is to take the hard lessons of our persecution to fight against all kinds of discrimination. When confronted with this question, Mr. Sterling brushed it aside saying “you’re a mental case,” perhaps thinking (as we sometimes do) that the Holocaust is distinct from any other racist or bigoted action. Yet, Mr. Sterling does not realize that the purpose of all of our suffering is precisely to help others avoid the consequences of discrimination. As the Torah teaches, “V’ahavta lo kamoha ki geirim heyyitem b’eretz mitzrayim – You should love the stranger as yourself because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33). At the very least what this means is that we should not treat others like we were treated or discriminated against. No matter what you may think about human nature, whether we are naturally kind-hearted or whether each one of us has some bigoted thoughts, we have an obligation as Jews to not let our history be in vain. As we commemorate the memory of six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust with this past week’s Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day, we must remind ourselves that it is because of such a tragic history that we have an obligation to raise ourselves above any “base” tendencies to discriminate or look down upon others. We have an obligation to be holy, and as a Jewish Home for the Soul, that is an obligation that must resonate in our collective soul. Kol Tuv, Rabbi Ari Saks

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