I have mentioned more than once that when I come up with the thoughts I want to share with all of you in this space, I’m hoping those thoughts are worthy of your time. Over the last eight months, the horrific pandemic we are all living through has been a dominant theme. I have discussed the effects Covid has had on our congregation, as well as the great efforts so many have made for our benefit. To say that this virus has had a significant impact on all of our lives is certainly an understatement.
I now find myself (along with everyone else) facing another headline in our community. The issue I’m referring to, in my mind, speaks to freedom and diversity, or more specifically, the freedom to be diverse. We have tried very hard to create a diverse congregation. But diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, including diversity of thought and opinion, as well as political opinion.
We are currently experiencing a great division, and I find that to be very sad. Much has been written and discussed about the need to come together, to heal, and to be gracious with each other. And while all of that is certainly true, there is another level I would like to explore.
Last year, in the December bulletin, I wrote an article called “A Sport’s Fan Thoughts on Diversity.” In that article, I playfully asked whether I could remain friends with people who root for my team’s rivals. I then went on, still with tongue in cheek, to ask if skiers can have a relationship with snowboarders, and if those who love to read fiction, would be willing to dine with those who enjoy reading biographies. My queries continued with slightly less absurd examples. I wondered if folks with differing opinions on issues such as defense spending, taxation, and economic theory could co-exist. I then became so bold as to speculate about potential relationships between those who prefer blue cars vs. red cars.
All of these examples were put forth with a wry smile, but also with a very clear underlying message. My next scenario is presented with no humor (of course, some of you might argue that my previous examples were humorless as well, but that’s another story for another day).
It is not uncommon for people to say things like, “we need to…..” or “they still have to ….” when discussing political issues. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that most folks identify with one political party or another. And when they are discussing a goal they are hoping to achieve, it’s not uncommon to express their hopes with “we and they” or “us and them.” The implication, however, with those words, is an adversarial relationship, as opposed to a collaborative way of working together. It is my belief that only through cooperation, can productive results be achieved. I want to be clear that I am not equating cooperation with agreement. Nor am I suggesting that differences of opinion shouldn’t exist in order to succeed. What I am suggesting, is that the barriers to agreement are going to be far more difficult to overcome, when you start a relationship with “us vs. them.”
On a national level, I suspect these differences I have described are pretty firmly ingrained, and likely to remain so. But this article isn’t in a national publication. It’s in our bulletin. And I believe, with all my heart, that we, as members of Temple Israel of Long Beach, not only have the ability to come together, we have an obligation to do so. Again, I am not advocating for everyone to be of the same mind for everything (my naivete only goes so far), but I do believe that our differences of opinion should not prevent us from enjoying the wonderful relationships we all share as fellow congregants of our beloved temple. There is so much our synagogue has to offer, Covid-19 notwithstanding, that it would be an absolute shame for those relationships to be compromised.
Differences of opinion are exactly that, a different belief in how things should be. With respectful dialogue, I find such conversations stimulating and invigorating. Sometimes, I’m able to persuade who I am speaking with, sometimes my opinion is changed, but most of the time, a conversation ends with neither of us changing our minds. But regardless of how the interaction concludes, with respectful dialogue, I genuinely believe we are both better off for having the opportunity to engage. And yes, I used the word respect twice, because it merits repeating.
I titled this article “Us vs. Them.” And even though I am sometimes guilty of using those words when I speak, my hope is that we recognize that we are Americans, as well as Temple Israel members. We are all the “Us.”
Accompanying this article is a photo of two next door neighbors, with different political preferences. More importantly, however, they also have a love and respect for each other, as friends and fellow human beings. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people felt that way?