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When Politics and Religion Collide

02/01/2017 04:34:09 PM


When I was a child our temple had a huge sign in the front lawn that said “Save Soviet Jewry”.  I don’t think that anyone in the 1960s thought that it was at all controversial. We were engaged in the Cold War and anti-Soviet sentiment was at an all time high. As a child the sign made me think. It got me to ask questions. It made me proud that our congregation cared about people far away.

Theses days I often wonder that if we were to put a sign outside our building consistent with Reform Jewish values, what might it be? The slogan of Reform Judaism in America has always been “be a light unto the nations”. We have a beautiful history of helping the underdogs in society. Our tradition demands that we care for the segments of society that are most at risk. Unfortunately, today that list is quite long.

In pithy form, here are some signs I would suggest – “We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters”, “Women’s rights are human rights”, “Secure borders with kindness and mercy”, “Nazis murdered 6,000,000 Jews”, “Patriotism requires questioning”  “Hate speech is Lashon Hara (evil speech)” “Coexistence for a  kinder, gentler America” “Peace is the greatest value”, “We died in Nazi Europe because the borders closed.” More important than placing these signs in the grass is writing them upon our hearts,

There are many synagogues these days putting signs out. There is a point when politics is no longer politics and it spills over into morality.  At that moment it becomes the realm of religion. When Jews are no longer mentioned in speeches about the Holocaust, a tipping point has been reached. When families in the midst of immigration are torn apart, a tipping point is reached. When religious profiling is used as a litmus test, a tipping point has been reached. When White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are exalted by the President of the United States silence is wrong.

It is here that a wonderful opportunity exists. Reaching out to others of all races, religions, sexual preferences is fulfilling the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam. Speaking out against hatred in all of its forms is the hallmark of our tradition. Embracing the stranger rather than fearing them brings peace to our world. Shalom means not only “peace“ but also “wholeness”. We need to be wholly present, attentive and proactive to create a world worthy of our teachings. 

What are the signs that you are writing on your heart?


Fri, September 18 2020 29 Elul 5780