Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm at home. With a very sore throat. Trying to will myself back to health because this is looming in my future. I highly recommend this service to everyone, by the way, regardless of your religious persuasion. It's always a lot of fun, the music is good, and there is some free wine afterwards...for those of you who will be continuing your personal celebrations later on that same evening, I say wine before beer, never fear.

I've been thinking a great deal about a question that was asked of me by one of my religious school first graders.

This past Sunday was erev Yom Hashoah - the eve of Holocaust Day. How more than a decade's worth of prejudice, warfare, and genocide can be distilled into one day has been one that smarter and more religious souls than I have been grappling with for a long time, but the agreed-upon time for official observance is now approximately a week after the end of Passover. There is still another problem: how do you communicate the importance and dread of this day without filling really young kids with horror and loathing towards their fellow men and women?

After the school day, a teacher mentioned that, of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar, this is one that hasn't had much in the way of hope woven into its fabric.

Still and all, the pre-kindergarten and K-1 grades gathered in the chapel for a session in which the educational director singled out kids for certain things (all the blond kids, up to the front, all the kids wearing red, come to the front), told the assembly that the kids singled out were special in some way, and then asked if that was fair. The answer from everybody was no. The director talked of a time when people were singled out for being Jewish, were denied access to education, forbidden to work in their professions, and were eventually sent away. Some of the older kids knew about the implications of having been "sent away" in Nazi Germany already, but everyone got the basic point. And one bright kid had thought it through.

Before the assembly, my class had just been doing an exercise about mitzvot, literally translated as "commandments", but expanded some with the catchall phrase "good deeds". Everyone had had to think about what mitzvot they had done over the past week, and we discussed them as a group. Kids had visited relatives, called or sent cards to those who were sick, watered plants, helped out siblings, taken care of animals, even adopted animals from the pound.

After the assembly, one kid asked, "Was it wrong for me to have singled out one dog to adopt from the pound? If it's so wrong to single out people, what makes singling out a pet right?"

I told him and the other kids in my class that mitzvot start out small, that we all do what we are capable of doing. "Are you able to adopt all the dogs from the pound that were there that day?" I asked the new pet owner.

"No," he said. "My family wouldn't have been able to take care of them."

"So you have done what you could do," I told him. "At another time in your life, if you have the means and the will, maybe you will go back and adopt every dog from the pound and give them a good home."

The question seemed to have been settled for the kids...but it wasn't for me. It still isn't.

An old joke, just to jar me outta my mood a tad:

-Close the window, my friend, it's cold outside.
-Nu, and if I close the window, will it be warm outside?

It's an old tradition, answering questions and requests with more questions. I'm living in a city that is full of that old tradition, ad nauseum. I am also living in a time that is not at all free of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil". The events in Blacksburg, Virginia, are an explosive example of this - a college senior turning a gun on fellow classmates and on teachers. There are questions surrounding the massacre that will most likely never be answered to everyone's satisfaction. It is those unanswered questions that will simply feed our fears and cause us to point our fingers indiscriminately. People will be hurt again.

The real problem lies with the questions that we have it within our power to answer - in fact, they are answers that we have in hand, if we will only use those answers to do good. Insurance companies should be doing the decent thing and helping people - instead, they are gouging whoever they can in whatever way they can and filling others with the dread fear that they are next. People who want to live simply and carry on with their lives where they are are being railroaded into situations where their livelihoods are threatened. Darn it, we even have it within our power to protect our homes from natural and unnatural disaster, if we could only tug on the ears of the right people with the right intentions. Instead, we are all chasing money around in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to lead our lives along the principles with which this country was founded.

Who knew that ideology was the least of our fears? Money has got it beat by a mile.

This country has shown, time and again in its past, that it has the means and the will to do a hell of a lot. Lately, however, I haven't been seeing much evidence of either being used in a way that is really of help to most people who call this country home.

I look at my two hands and wonder what the hell I can do. What is within my power? Where the hell can I find more hope? I'm just a mom with a kid and some part-time teaching jobs. And a blog - one among gazillions.

I guess I just do what I can. I teach some thirty-plus kids each week about art and about Judaism. I sing some Jewish liturgy. I keep a messy home, walk my dog, and take care of a husband and a little guy. I write about it all, and then some, as best I can.

But I don't have to feel entirely secure about it. I keep my eyes and ears open for change, and I keep kinda busy.

And that is pretty damn powerful...


adrastos said...

Excellent post, Leigh. I can't think of a single snarky thing to say.

Hope you feel better soon. We may try and make the Touro music thingee. Is your role with the choir or???

Leigh C. said...

I'm soloing half the time and I'm singing in the choir. We'd love to see ya there!

TravelingMermaid said...

Great post. So very wise for such a cute young one!

LisaPal said...

I really enjoyed your post, (thanks for the link), and your New York Story has held me rapt.

Once upon a time, in its early years, I never missed Jazz Fest Shabbat. It was a great service back then and it looks like it's gotten even better. I hope your sore throat is gone and you're in peak form on Friday evening.

saintseester said...

Feel better soon. Thank you for the lesson.