They are banning books in many states. It seems that some school districts are afraid that young people will read things that adults on the school board, and some parents, feel will corrupt these young minds. Seems that no one watches cable news! Not only are some places banning books, but new laws are being passed restricting access and choices to a variety of issues from voting to who controls a woman’s body, to life style choices. What is everyone so afraid of? Do people think that ideas can be “banned”? Does anyone study history anymore?
We need to be concerned about this. Even a brief overview of Jewish history will tell one that when these things start being passed into law, it does not bode well for us. Many of our generation, and even more from our parents’ generation, lived this journey. There is a growing, gnawing anxiety within our Jewish community that something profound has changed. The incidents of anti-Semitism have grown and now violence has been added to the mix. Yes, for the most part, we remain secure and safe….but something is changing and we feel it.
These laws and incidents raise the question of fear. What are people afraid of? Is this fear of the “other”, people who may act, live or feel differently that others? What has happened to respect for the other, the value of human dignity and the civility of discourse, even with people with whom I may disagree. Is not open conversation and dialogue better than creating a culture of fear and restrictions, as if banning a book will really stop some teen from finding it on the inter-net.
Fear is a reality that stifles life. It is a means of control when placed in the hands of an institution. Just look at human history! What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that if we are open to the world we may learn something from that book we never knew? Or that the gay man or woman shares the same hopes and dreams as we do and that we really are not that different?
Let me suggest that now is the time for our generation, who lived through manifest social change, to step up and make our voices heard. We know that open and honest human centered civil communication can wipe away fear of the “other”. We may not agree on all of these choices, but to live in a society of restriction and fear based law only compounds the problem. There are “teachable moments” every day. We need to lift up each other, not tear down. We need to build bridges of understanding and not barriers of fear and distrust. We need to commit ourselves to an open hand of care and not that closed fist of mistrust–before it is too late. And the clock is ticking!
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.