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An Error in Judgment is Not An Apology

 

And the NYTimes’s Second Attempt is Lacking

Admitting an error in judgment isn’t the same as apologizing for it. I thought that the New York Times would know the difference between the two, but can it distinguish between an “error in judgment” and a simple “we are sorry?” The issue involves an anti-Semitic political cartoon with caricatures of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that appeared in its Thursday International print edition (the cartoon was later deleted).

 

On Saturday, the New York Times opinion Twitter page issued the following retraction:

 

If you search for how many other media outlets characterized the Time’s retraction, you’ll find that initial search results display headlines like, “New York Times apologizes….” The only problem is that there is no apology. Rather, as you’ve read in the retraction, the words “error in judgment,” “offensive,” and “anti-Semitic tropes” appear. Those statements are accurate but are self-referential. In other words, the Times is apologizing to its readers for a mistaken editorial judgment that reflects poorly on itself. A storied publication like the New York Times aspires to the highest standards of professional journalism and when it stumbles badly it’s embarrassed for its bruised reputation. That’s a kind way of saying that the New York Times displayed empathy for its own good reputation and not for the admittedly anti-Jewish propaganda that it disseminated and perpetuated. I did not conduct an exhaustive online search but to the credit of The Times of Israel, it notes that “the paper did not explicitly apologize for carrying the cartoon.”

 

Here’s how simply an admission of an “error in judgment” could and should have been turned into an immediate apology. “We apologize for an anti-Semitic (words in bold are mine) political cartoon in the international print edition of the New York Times…” and the rest of its belated retraction could have stood. This slight modification would have helped to restore not only the Time’s desired credibility as a trusted journalistic source but its sincerity to remain so. By leading with the words, “We apologize,” the Times would have shown empathy toward those who were horrified by the cartoon. That means Jews who were deeply offended by a prestigious publication giving its imprimatur to anti-Semitic tropes, and any person who is against hatred, bigotry, and all kinds of fears of “the other.”

 

Also, note that this cartoon appeared in the Times International Edition. As a reader of the International Edition, the Times has given me a broader understanding of significant positive and negative worldwide trends, including global warming, political hotspots, oppressed people who otherwise would be anonymous, and anti-Semitism’s global rise. There have been significant increases in anti-Semitic vandalism, verbal harassment, and physical assault in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and The Americas. For example, Great Britain’s Labor Party, until recently a warm home to the majority of British Jews, has instead become an incubator and enabler of anti-Semites. In France, Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French intellectual who is Jewish recently said that he “can no longer show my face on the street” (as reported by the Jewish Telegrapic Agency on April 25, 2019)

 

This New York Times cartoon controversy coincided with a tragic attack in another synagogue about 25 miles north of San Diego on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and the last day of Passover. The attacker murdered a 60-year-old woman and wounded three others. On the last day of Passover, as with many other Jewish holy days, Jews recite a memorial service called Yizkor, during which congregants remember loved ones who have died. Future Yizkor services will add the name of another person who was murdered in a synagogue during prayer.

 

While Saturday’s synagogue investigation is ongoing, the gunman allegedly claims to have been inspired by the massacre of 50 Muslims who were gunned down during prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand about six weeks ago. That’s why the New York Times must do far better than admit to a professional “error in judgment.” It owes an apology to all who believe that people are entitled equally to practice their religion, or to practice no religion, without fear of being murdered by people who hold opposite beliefs. Hatred may initially focus on one group, but it metastasizes to include other groups at accelerating rates because of social media. So memo to The New York Times: consider that your “error in judgment” may contribute to the next fanatical fatality and apologize for the cartoon now.

 

Update: The NYTimes’s second attempt (see @nytopinion) is overdue but still incomplete. They apologize for dropping their journalistic standards, but not to Jewish and non-Jewish readers who oppose bigoted journalism. Empathy for their audience, remorse for fueling hatred that contributes to fatalities, would be a sincere apology.

 

How Opposites Can Still Attract

 

If the conventional wisdom that “opposite attracts” is true, why do people who hold different views today often become oppositional? Instead of becoming closer, they allow opposing viewpoints to push one another away. The ability to imagine that there can be more than one perspective in approaching issues has become threatening instead of enlightening.

The word “opposite” is always relational – someone or something is opposite another. For example, “opposite” can refer to a relationship between two objects. Instead of being perpendicular to one another, they can be placed opposite one another. In that case, “opposite” defines a spatial relationship.

When applied to people, the word “opposite” also means that two people or different groups are in a relationship with one another. The question is how they choose to define that relationship. Does “opposite” turn to oppositional, where the two parties deploy protect, defend, and personal attack tactics? Or, do they maintain their points of view, try to see the other person’s perspective, and engage in open dialogue? *

In this second scenario, the goal of engagement is not to change the other’s viewpoint, although that might happen. It’s simply to relearn the beauty of a good intellectual give-and-take and clarify ideas, as did two Supreme Court Justices, the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the late conservative Antonin Scalia. Their opinions couldn’t be more opposite, but their mutual respect for their exceptionally principled arguments attracted them intellectually. They recognized that each made the other better not despite their opposite judicial philosophies but because of them. Justice Scalia remained a conservative, and Justice Ginsburg is a liberal, but their being on opposite sides of issues made a collegial relationship blossom into a model friendship.

Passover and Easter are almost here and it’s very likely that a family member or friend may be sitting opposite someone in both meanings of the word – two people with opposite views sitting across a table. Regardless of religious observance, families and friends gather for personal celebrations. In fact, I was recently interviewed by Katie Moritz in ReWire on the topic, “Words Matter: How To Address Offensive Language In Family Conversations.” Kudos to Katie for raising this question, and as my book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide is now available, I appreciated the opportunity to respond to her questions.

Here’s where I take inspiration from the Passover Seder. The Seder transforms a table into a platform for debate, discussion, and engagement about the collective and personal purpose of the Biblical Exodus narrative. In Hebrew, the “script” that’s traditionally used as a springboard for the telling of the story is called a Haggadah. The Hebrew root meaning of the word Haggadah or recitation (of the story) is “opposite” (נגד/neged). During the Seder, it’s a traditional commandment to engage all people, young and old, those who are more knowledgeable and those who are less knowledgeable, in debate. Opposites are meant to engage people in deeper reflection on the meaning of the story of liberation, how it shaped the Jewish people, and how it influences all people today. Intellectual and experiential arguments between opposites-a definite yes! Shallow, oppositional, personal attacks-not acceptable.

Whether you’re sitting at a Seder table, Easter dinner, or a gathering with friends and family, think about the choice you have when you’re with others who hold views opposite your own. I hope that you’ll choose the opportunity to reclaim the word “opposite” as a positive value that reconnects people with divergent viewpoints through engaging discussions. We’ll all be better for the effort.

* I’d like to credit Rabbi Michael Hattin of Pardes for this insight in his podcast on The Structure of the Pesach Seder.

 

Is a Sharing Parent a Caring Parent?

Recently, my parents have been sending me pictures from my childhood. (yes, that’s my kindergarten picture, and I miss my Brylcreem!) By coincidence, they sent this picture of me at about the same time that I was reading an article on “Sharenting.” “Sharenting” defines parents (and I would add grandparents) who frequently share photos and videos of their children and grandchildren online. Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? A sonogram, videos of an infant’s first sounds or a toddler’s initial wobbly steps, or pictures of that first time when a child decides that she or he is old enough to choose how to dress for pre-school (what fashionista decided that pink sweat pants, an orange shirt, and green tennis shoes don’t match anyway?).

But what happens when children learn from their friends or by searching for themselves online that they have an extensive digital footprint created by their parents or other family members without their knowledge and consent? Social media sites have minimum age requirements for children (enforceability is a separate issue), and schools that send pictures of children’s activities during the day first must get the permission of parents or guardians. As adults, we feel violated when a stranger hijacks our online identities, especially because it’s often done with malicious intent. It’s, therefore, time to ask, “Although most parents or grandparents have only loving intentions in sharing darling photos, are there limits to sharenting? At what point does cute and harmless potentially become disrespectful and damaging?”

Hayim Herring

The identity development of tweens (pre-teens) and teens can be a rocky unfolding journey. There’s nothing new about that, and I can remember arguments with my parents in junior high school about the length of my hair and the style of jeans. But those discussions were private, many of my childhood photos are still stored in a shoebox and not in the cloud, and I was the one who controlled my personal narrative with my friends during my teen years. I didn’t have to worry about pictures that my parents posted of me online without my consent or private comments that became public. But now, tweens and even those younger are discovering that they have a robust online existence being curated by parents, grandparents, and sometimes their schools.

I understand the urge of grandparents who want to proudly showcase their grandchildren. And for today’s parents who have been raised in a digital world, I can imagine their desires in wanting to share moments of their children’s lives online. I’m not making a judgment – there are many sides to this issue. But I do know that a perennial parental role is setting boundaries with children that change as they mature. We hope to guide our children to become caring, responsible, empathetic adults who are respectful of others. If parents and grandparents don’t set their own boundaries about what they share online about their children and grandchildren, what are we teaching them about how to set their own online limits?

We know enough already about the emotionally isolating effects of social media on young children. I now understand that we need to elevate the importance of a question that some psychologists are asking: is sharing always caring? Does putting content about your children or grandchildren online have the potential to shock their healthy childhood and adolescent development and create unanticipated emotional risks? We’ve permanently moved from the days of storing printed photos in a shoebox to sharing them on online sites like Dropbox. But until we start to better understand that sharing an innocent photo may not be so innocent after all, maybe we can adapt the carpenter’s maxim, “measure twice, cut once” to Sharenting: “click twice – and if you post, cut now.” After all, with discussion, dialogue, and discretion, we can always decide to post later.

(You can read more about these topics in my new book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, available for pre-order now!)

 

We’re Brokenhearted but The Tree of Life is not Broken

When I looked at my messages after this past Sabbath (I don’t use my phone on the Sabbath), the first several notes of support and condolences that I received were from my Christian clergy friends. In fact, two weeks ago, I was a guest teacher at a church in St. Paul. My friend and colleague, Reverend Blair Pogue, rector at Saint Matthew’s, had invited me to speak to a group of her congregants. I was grateful to receive and accept this invitation. Sure, I was busy with family and business travel. But when pausing to consider Jewish history, I thought about how amazing it is to live in a country where many church members and leaders know that having an open heart also means keeping an open mind.

Reverend Pogue had asked me to speak about the covenant or conditions that God stipulated with Abraham and Sarah, the first two individuals to adopt a revolutionary set of beliefs that evolved over centuries into what became Judaism. Her congregants were curious about the difference between that covenant or pact and how it was different from the one made with the Biblical Noah. I designed our study to be interactive but needed a few minutes to set the context about the interconnectedness of all human beings. So, my first question to this wonderful group of congregants was, “What religion did Adam and Eve, the first two human beings mentioned in the Biblical creation story, practice?” The answer: “None!” And that was meant as a reminder that every human being possesses equal inherent dignity. Religious or secular, atheist or agnostic – every person’s life is of immeasurable value.

True, the Jewish people were once divided into twelve tribes, named after one the sons of Jacob. But before then and continuing through today, we’ve also been a part of the much larger tribe of humanity. Having our roots in one particular tribe, that began with Abraham and Sarah, was never meant to suggest that our roots aren’t also intertwined with our larger human family.

There’s an ancient Jewish teaching that captures the pain that Jews across the United States and throughout the world are feeling now. In describing how the condition of one Jewish person affects the feelings of another, this teaching makes an analogy: “This (reality of mutual caring) may be compared to the case of passengers on a ship, one of whom took a drill and began boring beneath his own place. His travel mates said to him: ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ He answered, ‘Why is it your business? Aren’t I only drilling under my seat?’ They responded, “It matters because the water will enter through (underneath your seat) but submerge all of us.’” (Leviticus Rabbah 4:6).

The agony that American Jews are experiencing today isn’t imaginary. Less than two weeks ago, there were back-to-back attacks in Brooklyn against Orthodox Jewish men  From 2015 to 2016, the number of anti-Semitic acts in the United States increased from 942 to 1,266 (a 34% increase) and dramatically rose again in 2017 to 1,986 incidents (a 56% increase). The Anti-Defamation League, which works closely with law enforcement authorities in monitoring these incidents which include physical assaults, vandalism, and attacks against Jewish institutions, states that this is, “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.” In this same report, it added that “The sharp rise was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.”

My parents, who are in there upper 80’s, told me stories of the routine anti-Semitism they experienced when they were children. Occasionally, I’ve received hate mail (now it’s digitally delivered) and looked someone in the eyes who uttered anti-Semitic slurs against me. But those occasions were so infrequent that I never feared for my safety because of my religion and I haven’t given a second thought to publicly wearing a kippah, a traditional Jewish head covering. Trying to hide who you are is generally a poor long-term strategy for safety. It only empowers and feeds the malicious intent that some people have against those who look or act differently from a majority.

But for the first time in several generations, Jewish school children and college students are becoming fearful about how public they can be about their Judaism. And while we don’t have a monopoly on feeling targeted by vicious people, we have a history of anti-Jewish hatred that extends for thousands of years that more recently includes a partially successful effort at Jewish genocide under the Nazi regime, which murdered one of every three European Jews, the rise of anti-Semitism in much of Europe again within the lifetime of remaining Holocaust survivors, and calls from Iranian clerics, and their terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to wipe Israel off the map. We have reasons to take anti-Semitic threats and acts of violence seriously.

At the same time, I’m still rooting for the many decent Americans I know who are disgusted with hate speech against immigrants, a disproportionate rate of incarcerations of people of color, mass shootings in schools and houses of worship, men who abuse their power against women and are paid to quietly go away, and discrimination against LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) individuals. They know that we are all in the same boat.

I’m all for sermons, community vigils, and gatherings of good people to demonstrate against violent speech that always ends in violent actions. But we can do more:

1. When one house of worship is attacked, even more people from different faith communities need to support one another, as they have increasingly been doing. In fact, even if you practice no faith and are equally indifferent to all religions, it’s your time to show up at these gatherings because they’re an attack on your freedom to be an atheist.

2. I don’t own a gun, but I live in a state where owning a gun for sport is a way of life for some people. When I first moved to Minnesota in 1985 I didn’t get it but I do now. But responsible gun owners have a special obligation to speak out and work toward banning assault weapons and prohibiting those who are mentally ill from owning a gun. We need your credibility to educate others that owning a gun can be done responsibly.

3. First responders, police, emergency personnel—start thanking them if you haven’t, and keep thanking them if you do. I’m not dismissing racial inequality and police brutality against people of color. It exists, it’s unacceptable, and we desperately need reforms. But just because some clergy members unforgivably victimize others, not all members of the clergy are abusers. By analogy, because some police officers abuse their power, that doesn’t make all of them guilty. Nearly 130 law enforcement officers were killed while on duty in 2017. I honestly can’t imagine what it means to have a job where you’re required to train your subconscious to ignore the possibility that you may be injured or killed whenever you’re on the job.

4. Don’t diss the “mainstream” media. Their work strengthens democracy. You don’t have to love journalists, but they’re not the villains in the unraveling of our democracy.

5. Finally, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to reach out to a stranger in your neighborhood and introduce yourself. You have little to lose and much to gain. Change happens one person at a time, on the local level, and every individual can make a difference by turning an “other” into a sister or brother. It’s not complicated.

In some futile efforts to “harden our schools “and “houses of worship” I’m afraid we’re going to permanently harden our hearts. Making America great again begins with making America kind again. America has been feared for its military power but admired for its compassion and generosity. Kindness and empathy will make America great again and that’s something that we can control.

 

 

 

Make Foresight 20/20 this New Year!

 

“Foresight is 20/20” is not a typographical error. Rather, it relates to a theme that Dr. Terri Elton and I wrote about in our recent book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. Foresight is one capacity that will enable congregations to thrive in the future. The velocity of change is accelerating so swiftly that even being agile is insufficient insurance for future survival. Agility, which involves pivoting to a change, still places leaders in a reactive mode. But when leaders learn how to regularly exercise and act upon foresight, they’ll have a better chance to proactively shape the future of their congregations.

When do we invoke the phrase “20/20 hindsight?” We do so to make sense of how we either missed an opportunity or threat. But 20/20 foresight suggests that we can turn knowledge of what is very likely to happen in the future into practices of what can be now. With 20/20 foresight, congregational leaders can focus more on igniting people’s spiritual sparks instead of “worrying about how to keep the lights on.” They’ll have a better chance at deepening and broadening their mission and positively influencing more people’s spiritual lives.

In our book, we described several processes that leaders can use to peer further over the horizon and anticipate potential issues, policies, and innovations. Since that time, I’ve become more familiar with Dr. Daniel Burrus, a global innovation expert and futurist, and his most recent book The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption And Change Into Opportunity And Advantage. Burrus introduces two interrelated concepts for getting smart about the future: “hard trends” and “future facts.” He writes, “A hard trend is a future fact that can provide something that is very empowering: certainty. Hard trends will happen, no matter who you are…. None of us can stop hard trends from occurring, but there are ways to see them coming (page 18).” Once you’ve become better at identifying “hard trends,” you can use “future facts” to your advantage because your congregation will already be where its existing and potential constituents are.

Here are two examples of hard trends that are future facts:

  1. There are six generational cohorts of human beings alive today: members of 1) Gen Z or post-Millennials, 2) Millennials, 3) Gen X’er’s, 4) Baby Boomers, 5) the Silent Generation and, 6) the Greatest Generation. Generational names will change, but the reality of having individuals who span six generations is a hard trend and a future fact that could change to seven generations as medical technology advances.
  2. The day when children will interact with non-human physical objects that they perceive as humans is already here, with experiments happening in leading tech labs. According to Anya Kamenetz, who writes about technology and education issues, “If the forecasters are to be believed, we’ll all soon be plunged into a gently glowing alphabet soup of AR, VR, AI, MR, and IoT – augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, “mixed reality,” and the Internet of Things… Digital experiences will be so immersive and pervasive that Yellowstone National Park will look like today’s Times Square. By then, the existence of screens as separate entities, with borders and off buttons, will be a quaint, half-remembered state of affairs.

These two hard trends – six generations alive at one time and a VR world – are replete with spiritual implications that anticipatory leaders could be acting upon now. For example, how do we foster ongoing intergenerational relationships where young and old engage in reciprocal learning? What happens to our innate holiness when children grow up with “parents” named Alexa and Cortana? There are few venues in our communities that are structured for ongoing interactions between young and old (and “old” means 55+!) but that’s also a great opportunity for congregations. They are theoretically ready to become spaces of intergenerational meeting, where puzzling through these issues becomes normative.

 

 

A true story to concretize this opportunity: a 14-year-old teen whose grandmother was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease raised money by crowdfunding to develop an app with AI (artificial intelligence) and facial recognition software to help her grandmother remember family members. This teen initiated conversations and sought ideas and support from caregivers, family members, and tech mentors by herself. Given their access to multiple generations and talented volunteers, congregations could create a standing intergenerational council to harness the wisdom, technological savvy and multiple generational perspectives to address opportunities and rapid changes. Congregations also have the advantage of drawing upon inherited spiritual wisdom to weigh advantages and disadvantages of maintaining the status quo versus initiating a change, an asset that can curb the urge to rush headlong into change.

We simply don’t have the experience of fostering communities with people from so many different generations and the rapidity of technological and social change challenges us to absorb their potential positive and negative implications. The best way to navigate our unpredictable times is to use collective generational wisdom. Doing so also reminds us of the underlying divine connection that binds us together regardless of age.

The capacity to better envision the future is admittedly difficult. Religious leaders must calibrate the balance between our inherited spiritual past and contemporary realities so that future generations will inherit a spiritual legacy. That sounds like an impossible task, but the routine act of driving a car suggests an analogy of how we already do so. When driving, we balance past, present and future because we learn when to accelerate forward, and when to slow down and brake, while simultaneously looking ahead through the windshield, behind through the rearview mirror, and at our present surroundings in the side view mirrors.

As religious leaders, we bring humility to our efforts to better anticipate the future, which holds mysteries beyond our perception and imagination. On the other hand, the greatest religious leaders have been rooted in the past, looked deeply into the present, and provided a vision for the future. Speaking from the Jewish tradition, I’m inspired by a question that a first-century rabbinic sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, asked a group of his students (Pirkei Avot 2:12). “Which is the best characteristic for a person to acquire?” [One student,] Rabbi Shimon said, “One should learn to anticipate the future,” and his response can empower us to think more about the hard trends and future facts that we can use to keep congregations vital.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist who holds a doctorate in Organization and Management. He specializes in “preparing today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations”™. His forthcoming book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide (Rowman & Littlefield) is scheduled for publication in late Spring 2019. An earlier version of this post appeared on the Congregational Resource Guide Blog.

Originally published on the eJewish Philanthropy website

 

An Authenticated or Authentic Self?

When I start my computer, the first words that appear on my screen are “Looking for you.” I use its facial recognition software to log on, so each time I restart my computer I aim my face precisely at its camera because it’s “looking for me.” I’m also using a few other services that use biometric-based technologies, like fingerprints and iris scans, to verify that I’m the person whom I claim to be. These technologies are more secure at “authenticating” the user and preventing a hack attack, and corporations and governments are increasingly adopting biometrics for security purposes.

I’m glad that my computer misses me when I’m away from the keyboard and is “looking for me” when I return. But what are the implications for you and for me now that our devices can quickly scan our physical identities? A camera can look at a person to authenticate a physical self. But only we can choose to look within and cultivate an authentic emotional and spiritual self.

 

Photo courtesy of Computer World Magazine

 

As a country, we’re at an inflection point where the phrase “looking for you” feels existential. Many of us are here because our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents fled persecution and were welcomed by the United States. But these days, our government intentionally separates parents from children who seek not just a better life, but life itself. If they remain in the danger zones that they call home, it’s a likely death sentence.

The time feels right to take a digitally-generated prompt from a device, “looking for you,” that really means, “looking at you,” and turn it into human advice: let’s look within ourselves and restore civility and empathy that enable creative solutions, the kinds that bring us together and don’t pull us apart. We did that until recently and it isn’t too late to start doing so again. On a personal note, because on the Jewish calendar we’re about one month away from our holy day season, it’s a natural time for me to do some extra introspection. And I’d like to invite you, whether you’re atheist or secular, Republican or Democrat, Jewish or a person of another faith tradition to join me in looking inward so that we remember how to better look at one another instead past one another.

 

From Desperation to Inspiration: Don’t Dare to Stop Dreaming that You Can Change the World

 

With the permission of my colleague, Rabbi Sarah Bassin, Associate Rabbi of Temple Emanuel on Beverly Hills, CA, I’m sharing a good news story about the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent chemical attacks on innocent civilians. She explains how two of her congregants were able to mobilize faith communities to act in ways that made a real difference in a moment of crisis. She also describes her own learning and leadership throughout this process of providing support in a moment of deep crisis, and efforts to sustain that support. Often, religion gets a bad rap and you’re not likely to see this story of strangers helping strangers on so many levels, in another place far away that still strike home to some. I share it with you with the prayer that you or those in your communities will be inspired to provide help to those in need and not abandon hope when that’s the seemingly logical thing to do. It’s precisely in those moments when only a few people who say, “I refuse to accept this reality” that change happens.

 

Rabbi Sarah BassinI have no idea how to fix Syria.  Most Middle East experts admit they don’t either.  It’s complicated.  The Middle East is littered with the failed good intentions of our political interventions.

 

Now when we face the complicated in that region, we conclude that the best response must be no response.  My own disbelief at the bombings and the gas attacks morphed into heartbreak and outrage but quickly fizzled into paralysis.  No action of mine could advance a political solution to end the suffering.

 

I accepted my powerlessness along with the rest of the onlooking world.  I tried to ignore the implication that such acceptance came in the form of thousands of civilian casualties.  They were the collateral damage of the complicated.

 

But my logic was flawed.  We don’t refuse to feed one hungry person because we cannot alleviate the hunger of them all.  So why refrain from aiding some civilians in a war zone even though we cannot stop the war?  The enemy of the good is the perfect.

 

Two Jews from Los Angeles – Tamar and Phil Koosed refused to relinquish the possibility for the good.  They created Save the Syrian Children and used their business savvy to find shipping routes into areas under siege.  They inspired my congregation to break out of our paralysis.  And we rallied others.

 

With the help of 12 Jewish and interfaith organizations, we collected 5,000 pounds of clothes, an entire shipping container of unused medical supplies donated by hospitals and raised thousands of dollars to purchase more supplies.  Countless people donated.  Over 100 volunteers ages 8 to 80 showed up to sort, inventory and ship all of this stuff.  An entire community refused to succumb to inaction, as you can see from this local news story that covered our community’s efforts to help.

 

Of the more than 85,000 pounds of supplies that Save the Syrian Children has shipped in recent months, everything was accounted for through a double-blind inventory to ensure that materials get to where they need to go.  A mere 500 pounds of these supplies were lost when their warehouse was partially bombed.  Thank God Save the Syrian Children refused to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And you can see the actual delivery of supplies by clicking here.

 

I should note that our synagogue intentionally carried out this effort on the heels of Passover.  But the analogy of modern-day Syria to the Jewish story of liberation falls short.  We did not and we will not deliver anything close to freedom — the Syrian civilians living under siege have no exodus.  Our efforts to alleviate their suffering were much more modest.  Modest – but not inconsequential.  Perhaps, the better parallel of the exodus story is not between the Syrians and the Israelites, but between us and Pharaoh.  Our hearts were in danger of hardening to ignore the cries of those who suffer.  I’m grateful to Save the Syrian Children for pulling me and my community back from that fate – for helping us retain our humanity.

 

 

Joining “Never Again” with “Never Give Up” – in Praise of Yesterday’s Student Protesters

 

The phrase “Never Again” is generally associated with the Holocaust, the Nazi German state’s planned and executed genocide against the Jewish people. The aim of Nazi Germany in World War II was simple and horrific – eradicating Jews from the human race. That meant obliterating their past history, their then-current existence, and future continuity. The origin of “Never Again” and its connection to the Holocaust is historically unclear. But Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who is Jewish, is credited with adopting #NeverAgainMSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) as the hashtag that helped to mobilize student protests for sensible gun reform, which we saw again yesterday. Kasky, and several other student leaders have been relentless in their commitment to change. Their goal is also simple: they want to know that they and other school students in the U.S. can walk into their classrooms without having to fear that they might be the next victims of a mass shooting.

 

Does it matter that a specific phrase, applied to a certain people, at a certain time, has taken on renewed and reinterpreted meaning? I think that it’s not only a powerful and brilliant adaptation of the phrase but one that none other than Elie Wiesel, the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was often associated with this phrase, would approve of. While Elie Wiesel was the chronicler par excellence of the Holocaust and gave personal and collective voice to its Jewish victims unlike any other literary figure of the last Century, he also spoke out against genocide in countries like Sudan and spoke for victims of violence throughout the world. His personal experience compelled him to speak on behalf of those who could not, regardless of their background.

Some may remember the moment when Wiesel’s unshakable belief in the preciousness of all human life made a tangible difference. On April 22, 1993, Elie Wiesel was fittingly invited to be a speaker at the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He was sharing the stage with President Bill Clinton but had to improvise this most critical speech, because the rain had turned the words of his text into runny ink marks. And, as reported by the Washington Post this is what he said, as he faced the audience, and then turned to President Clinton:

“Forgive me. I’m just back from Sarajevo,” he said, pushing the papers aside. He told the audience about the devastating effects of the Bosnian conflict — the mass killings, the destruction of Muslim sacred sites, the cold-blooded murder of thousands of children. “I cannot put that place out of my mind. It has robbed me of my sleep.” He turned to Bill Clinton, seated on the dais behind him. “Mr. President. You must do something.” It was too much for Wiesel to stand at the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, that embodied the promise “Never Again,” while the scenes of the mass killings that he had just seen again were haunting him. And those words made a difference. Eventually, President Clinton led the effort to involve NATO in ending the deliberate bombing of innocent civilians during the Kosovo War.

The mass protests of high school students around the country, who have adopted the slogan, neveragainMSD, honor the phrase, “Never Again,” by expanding its meaning in a way that seems consistent with Wiesel’s approach. While it is historically inaccurate to compare gun violence in the US, perpetrated by individuals or groups representing an ideology, to state- sponsored genocide, its use is a legitimate reminder that the preventable loss of innocent lives should do more than alarm us, more than cause us to pray together and hold vigils and protests, but to work collectively to restore the value of human life, and answer our school children’s basic human question: “Can’t we go to school without worrying about being shot?” with a swift, affirmative, “Yes!”

And for those who are cynical about the possibility of reform, it seems fitting to remember the words of another Nobel prize winner, this time in physics, Stephen Hawking’s, who died yesterday. He once said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”

NeveragainMSD, Never Again anywhere, is a reminder to politicians that these students, and many adults, are not giving up this time.

 

A Confession: What I Learned at a Shooting Range

 

I grew up in a white, middle-class urban Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1970’s, where the only gun culture in our neighborhood was supported by Mattel, a toy manufacturer that sold “cap guns.” Cap guns imitated the sound of gunfire and emitted a puff of smoke from the slight amount of explosive contained in the caps (and for those who don’t know what a cap gun is, here’s a photo of one model). It was common from the 1950’s through the 1970’s for boys to own these kinds of toy guns, imitating the behavior of their favorite T.V. Western star. I still somehow managed to injure myself with this toy when a cap misfired, causing a slight flesh burn. That ended my interest in toy guns that had anything resembling explosives-or at least I don’t remember receiving any more toys guns from my parents after that little incident. So why did I decide to spend three hours learning how to shoot a pistol and a rifle in 2013?

In June 2013, there had been another lethal shooting on a college campus in Santa Monica, California. The shooter had legally purchased components of an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle, which he then modified and assembled before he went on his shooting rampage. There had already been several mass shootings at high schools and universities, and by the end of 2013, the last year in which the Centers for Disease Control was able to collect data on firearms, well over 11,000 people were killed intentionally by someone with a gun and a staggering 21,175 committed suicide using a firearm.

 

Facts and figures were one way of understanding the realities of the lax gun laws that we have in comparison with other Western countries. But I needed to see if the experience of firing a pistol and a rifle would give me better insights into what it was about Americans and their relationship to guns. Having made Minnesota my home, I had also gotten to know gun owners who grew up in rural areas where owning a gun was a part of the community culture, and they are as kind, caring and generous as you could hope for in a human being. Guns are not my thing, but I don’t automatically assume that just because someone owns a gun that person has an inferior moral compass. In fact, some of these gun owners are also city and state prosecutors who have seen the horrifying effects of gun violence in domestic abuse cases.

So here’s what I experienced, and learned in a way that I couldn’t have without having fired a shot. For about the first two hours of this training, I was drilled about the critical need for extensive annual training, gun safety – especially locking guns securely away from other family members – and how easy it is to miscalculate using a weapon and unintentionally injure innocent people or yourself. Only then were we permitted to practice, under very close supervision. And I will confess openly I felt an adrenaline rush when I fired a pistol and then hit the inside ring of a target six out of seven times with a rifle. The experience of that feeling helped me to understand why responsible gun owners take pride in their training and proficiency and gave me a glimpse into why they enjoyed hunting during our annual hunting season, even though I have no interest in ever touching a gun again.

But I also learned how easy it is to maim or kill somebody unintentionally unless. As one of my gun owner friends said to me, “if you’re serious about owning a gun, then be prepared to live with it more than with your family.” In the United States, toddlers accidentally shoot someone every week. Please reread this sentence-I am not talking about toddlers who are shot, but toddlers who get their hands on guns and wound or kill siblings, parents, or themselves. I remembered reading about a couple whose granddaughter had recently moved from another state to Minnesota to live with them. Because there had been some neighborhood burglaries, the husband legally purchased a pistol, and he and his wife had a plan in place if an intruder tried to enter their home. Despite that plan, when he fired off two rounds at someone he thought had come to burglarize his home, it turned out to be his 16-year-old granddaughter, who fortunately survived her wounds. Some years ago, during synagogue services on the high holy days, an older retired law enforcement officer accidentally dropped his loaded handgun, striking his 42-year-old daughter in the foot, and causing some minor injuries to two other people in the congregation.

Mental background checks, ongoing training and recertification, mandatory waiting periods before purchasing a handgun, making it illegal to purchase a gun at a gun show or from a friend, limiting the amount of ammunition that a person can purchase and permitting only those during active military service to carry and use assault weapons are some measures that individuals of any political party should be free to have a debate about.

So to those students who are leading the charge to have an open debate about safe and responsible ownership of guns, don’t quit. Open debate of ideas is your right as citizens of a democracy. The hateful tweets about you hurt but don’t be discouraged, because when you “put yourself out there,” it’s something you have to expect. Let it hurt and then wear the insults as badges of honor because it means that you are shaking a status quo that has far too long been complacent with inaction around the preventable loss of life.

You grew up with technologies that enable you to do things which those of us who are Baby Boomers can’t always imagine, so keep using your skills to track and publicize information about how much money is spent on lobbying for guns versus lobbying for education, how much money elected officials receive from the NRA on the city, state and federal levels and create your own “report cards” on politicians based on your values. Encourage your peers who are eligible to vote to do so and remind those who are already eligible voters to vote in elections. Look for groups with whom you can form strategic alliances to multiply your influence. Profile and praise individuals who have expressed their views with courage and eloquence through videos and also continue to speak respectfully of those who legally and responsibly own and use guns, and like you are deeply troubled by the pervasive availability of guns and assault weapons. Continue to forge a “third way” that breaks the gridlock that prevents action and do not despair. Many more faith leaders will be with you, praying the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives (2:4),” and we will protest and march with you.

So yes, I learned how to shoot a pistol and a rifle, and it strengthened my resolve to stand up to those who invoke “rights” yet won’t discuss revoking laws and loopholes that can save lives. Being number one in owning more guns per capita than any other country in the world is a record we need to change. Now.

 

 

Successful Mentorships Require Security and Maturity

Mentorships can be exceptional experiences that provide mutual satisfaction and learning. Mentorships can either be formal onboarding relationships required by a new employee’s organization, where a new employee is assigned a mentor who has more work experience. That veteran employee can help a new hire circumvent rookie mistakes and accelerate a new person’s learning in a specific content area and, more generally, help someone navigate the unfamiliar culture of the organization. Or, a mentorship can be informal, where someone with less experience has an ongoing professional relationship with a veteran in the same or related field, who may or may not be a part of the same organization. Informal mentorships happen more organically, flowing from a mentor’s desire to nurture younger talent and return the help that he or she received from someone at an earlier professional stage, while a mentee has an intuitive feeling that this informal mentor has no agenda other than to be of professional support.

Mentorships are different from coaching relationships, where typically an external expert is hired for a limited engagement to help an individual deepen self-insight into characteristics and habits that get in the way of better performance, to help with a specific skill, or provide alternative ways of framing issues that yield ideas or solutions that a coaching client could not see before. Coaching relationships are designed to support an individual who seeks growth in embracing a new challenge and deeper insight into one’s professional persona – the one that a person has acquired, or a latent one that a person decides to develop – at any stage of life. One of the essential differences between a mentorship and a coaching relationship is that the latter has a clear contractual beginning, middle and end with measurable goals. Mentorships can become messy because they are much more fluid.

That’s why successful mentorships require security on the part of the mentor, and maturity on the part of the mentee because a mentoring relationship has a shelf life. A secure mentor knows when it’s time to gradually create some distance with a mentee, so that person can begin to acquire greater self-confidence, self-awareness, and expertise. Someone who is accustomed to being mentored may experience that distancing as an unexpected lack of caring when it is actually an act of deep professional concern for the well-being and growth of a younger colleague.

And some mentees are too eager to assert independence of personality. They unknowingly rupture a relationship with a mentor through indifference to how much he or she has benefited from the experiences and relationships cultivated through a mentor. These relationships become complicated when mentors are reluctant or unable to know when to intentionally decrease their influence so that the mentee can begin to increase her or his independence and develop an authentic persona. If a mentor lacks that self-awareness, the person being mentored may need to more abruptly end the relationship, creating an atmosphere of awkwardness and causing a mentor to feel underappreciated. But in the best of all worlds, a healthy mentoring relationship evolves and both parties begin to transition from a more hierarchical relationship to a peer-to-peer relationship.

I’ve been thinking about some of my own coaching and mentoring relationships, both as a receiver and as a giver, during this time in the cycle of Torah readings, when we’re reading about the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the promised land. What might have been a relatively brief trip turned into a disastrous forty-year period of wandering. I wondered if the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro or Yitro in Hebrew, might have made a difference in the tumultuous relationship that Moses and the Jewish people experienced that turned their trip into a forty-year trek. Moses clearly respected his father-in-law’s wisdom and experience and takes his advice in establishing a court system that was not solely reliant upon Moses (see Exodus 18). Yet, it appears that despite Moses’s pleading to Yitro that he helps him navigate this desert terrain, Yitro declines (Numbers 9:29-32). I’d like to think that Yitro’s primary motivation for refusing to remain with Moses is that he doesn’t want to stunt his son-in-law’s potential that he (Moses) can’t yet see in himself. He knows that his son-in-law cannot actualize his own leadership potential if Moses remains in Yitro’s shadow.

A mentor can have a lifelong influence. Even after a mentor passes away, if you’ve had an especially fortunate experience with a mentor, you can still feel the presence and guidance of that person. You internalize aspects of someone’s exemplary character and wisdom and express them in your own unique way. But that only happens when a mentor practices tzimtzum or self-contraction, so that the mentee can develop into a full person in her or his own right.

 
 
 
 

©2019 Hayim Herring
 
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