What Are We Afraid Of?

RVI101963 Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1865 (oil on canvas);Leloir, Alexandre-Louis (1843-84);oil on canvas;617 X 471;Musee des Beaux-Arts, Clermont-Ferrand, France;Roger-Viollet, Paris;NO FRENCH, ITALIAN, SPANISH OR JAPANESE RIGHTS AVAILABLE;Out of copyright


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


  1. Thank you for these thoughts. Fear is our greatest limiting factor and sends us, as a society, reeling backwards. In this pandemic era, it seems many have dug into the their fears more strenuously than ever, unleashing a restrictive rather than expansive mindset. People elevate their own experiences, thoughts and beliefs to concretize into their own version of truth, diminishing or excluding the experiences and thoughts of others. This is to the great detriment of humanity. The false elevation of one’s own view and the fear of “others” will progress. It might kill us. Yes, we need to be outspoken about opening up, hearing one another, and building bridges, as you suggest. How can we do that? How do we open to others when those others don’t want to walk that same path? How do we break the downward spinning cycle? Is there a place for faith in this work? Where do we start? It seems to me we may have no choice but to begin in the middle—where we find ourselves right now. One hour at a time, one conversation at a time, one step at a time. Sometimes this feels like a lonely process, but the more we forge ahead, the more we light the path for ourselves and others.

  2. What you have to say are my thoughts exactly. I am fearful of the world I am leaving my grandchildren. I had thought that these things could never happen in the U.S. and I now know that I was wrong. I grew up having to endure antisemitism at many levels (school, job opportunities — even the colleges I was allowed to apply to). I was so happy that my children had better opportunities than I did and yet here we are again. If people are not allowed to read certain books, that prevents them from seeing various sides of important issues. People’s inhumanity to people is important to study just to ensure that we don’t repeat hideous behavior. Bringing people together is really important. I try to speak up wherever I can, but my fear is that those who really should be listening are not paying attention to anything I have to say. I don’t know what the answer is, but I pray that somehow we will find a way to bring us back on the right path.

What are your thoughts?

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