When President Trump issued the executive order which some call a “Muslim ban,” he calls a “necessary national security measure,” and I call foolish, possibly unconstitutional, and almost certainly unlikely to make us any safer, one well-intentioned, overreaching organization after another began offering responses – some positive and many strongly negative – I felt squeamish. I knew two things: 1. it would only be a matter of a day or two before I was asked to do the same thing and 2. that I did not want to do so. It’s not that I didn’t and don’t have strong feelings about what was and is happening. I do. It’s that, as important as it is to have something to say, being heard is even more important, and I had little confidence that was possible.
Two things changed my mind, and both lead to writing this post which is my response to the past ten days’ events in Washington and around the nation, specifically regarding that executive order.
First, my Board Chair sent a message that “we” (Clal, the publisher of The Wisdom Daily, though my writing here reflects my views, and we certainly welcome others) needed to issue a response. Given his passionate feelings and his genuine insight about such things, I not only knew it was the right thing to do, but actually began to feel OK about doing it. You see, if I know anything, it is that it pays to listen to caring, wise people, especially when they offer a perspective that pushes you past your comfort zone. Also, in this case, I knew the more limited audience with whom the words would be shared. We sent out a letter, and not a press release, for exactly that reason. And that is probably where the whole thing would have ended, were it not for Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Something Brady said after last night’s totally amazing come-from-way-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl really caught my attention. “We never really thought we were out of it,” Brady said to the first sportscaster to get a mic in front of him after the game. Whether that’s true or not is actually unimportant. What immediately struck me was that, however they felt, they had played as if they were not out of it. They worried less about where they were, and played into where they wanted to be.
Of course, it’s easier to say that and sound smart and bold after having won the game, but still. And yes, we need to remain aware of where we are even as we play, or live, or write our way into where we hope to be. This is not about disregarding present context in order to create a new and better one. It is simply that, in hearing him speak those words, I decided to share my own words in response to the President’s executive order, and what I think we can all do to get to a better place, regardless of our politics. I decided to share with the wider and more diverse Wisdom Daily community the same words that I previously shared with my better known and more sharply defined Clal community. So here we go:
You are receiving this message precisely because it is genuinely different from any communication we have seen from any other organization which has chosen to speak out about the events in our nation over the past week. We don’t make such claims lightly, but were it not the case, we would not be writing at all. This message is about you, regardless of your politics.
In the midst of all the arguing and protesting, in the midst of all the hurt feelings and genuine vulnerabilities – both feared and already experienced – we write with a simple but powerful invitation which all can honor each in their own way. We invite you to show up for each other.
You may be among the 48% of Americans who support the President’s recent executive order regarding immigration. You may be among the 42% who are opposed. And you may be part of the 10% whose heads are spinning so fiercely that they know longer support either of those conclusions. We care, as individuals, about where you land among those groups and also want to make clear that we do not think all positions here are morally or ethically equal.
In fact, not one member of our lay or professional leadership, whose members include committed conservatives, proud progressives, and many things in between or beyond, is comfortable with where we have gone in the past week. But, since all the arguing about who is right and who is not have barely moved the needle for either side, we choose instead to write to you as an individual – one, like almost all of us, who is more complicated than any single conclusion would indicate. That is the why we choose to invite when others choose to inveigh.
We invite you to show up for each other. It’s both more powerful, and not as easy, as it sounds because who the “other” is depends less on who “they” are and more on who you are. Who is the other for you right now? Who is the person with whom you least identify, be they an undocumented alien, or a person now separated from their family because of new executive orders? Could it be the person with whom you can no longer speak because they voted for the President, or is it the angry, out-of-work white guy who blames Mexico for his unemployment?
The only thing we know for sure, is that whomever that other is, they are increasingly seen as a force of darkness that is so dangerous, that the rules under which we used to pride ourselves in functioning are falling by the wayside, and otherwise kind-hearted people behave with increasingly blind rage toward one another. And that is the one thing over which we all have a measure of control – how to relate to whatever darkness we think we are in.
This week, both across the nation and throughout the world, people will hear the words of Exodus describing the plague of darkness which fell upon the ancient Egyptians. That darkness was so thick that people could not move, according to the Sages. They were stuck, they were paralyzed.
You are stuck when you all you feel is a generalized fear of foreigners or Muslims, but have not reached out to precisely that other. How many supporters of the president have listened to actual people put into harm’s way because of the policies which they support? You may still support those policies after doing so, but not in the exact same way.
You are stuck when comparisons between the president and Hitler flow so easily, but you have no meaningful engagement with those who support the president – engagement which actually moves you, not necessarily toward them, but toward a deeper understanding and respect for them, if not their conclusions.
We invite you to unstick yourself – not because all forms of being stuck are equally dangerous, but because the most effective place to start is with yourself, and we do it by showing up for each other.
We invite you to show up for an American-born, hijab-wearing, Muslim woman precisely because, whatever your views about her otherness, your willingness to show up for her drives away the very darkness that haunts you.
We invite you to show up for that red-hat-wearing, wall-supporting, colleague or neighbor because again, whatever your views about his otherness, your willingness to show up for him drives away the very darkness that haunts you.
Show up with a cup of coffee, or the offer of some other “meaningless” favor which we know build the social capitol we are fast losing in this nation. Show up with a genuine curiosity about their experience, as opposed to new facts which support your own.
We may win or we may lose on any given policy debate, but these are things we can all do, and they are ways in which we can all chase away whatever darkness we see, especially the darkness of despair which has us all so dangerously stuck. Whoever we are, and whatever we believe, we can all show up for each other, whoever that other may be.
So will this be heard constructively? You be the judge, and please let me know either way. But in the meantime, I decided to share these words because I want to “play” as if the will be, as if this approach is not out of the game, and as if we can all make a positive difference regardless of who is in power and what he is doing. Like I said, you be the judge, and please let me know.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.