This past week, Alexander Rapaport, the director of Masbia soup kitchen, supported his Yemeni neighbors in protesting President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. In response, he lost donors, including one who wrote, “After seeing…that you protested President Trump’s executive order, and thus shamefully sided with those who are putting American lives in danger, I am no longer able to donate to your organization.”
I try to be nonpartisan in these pieces, so I will not opine on the merits (or lack thereof) of President Trump’s executive order, focusing instead on Mr. Rapaport, who in my opinion has got it exactly right, one’s personal politics notwithstanding. The JTA reported that Rapaport’s “experience being the victim of anti-Semitism forces him to call out hatred against others.” Even if one feels that the president’s executive order is absolutely the right course of action, how could one object those motives?
I would like to share two true stories to illustrate a point.
Story number one:
Once, walking on Shabbos, my family and some friends were passed by an African-American family. The young son, perhaps seven or eight years of age, said hello and the seven of us walking together all greeted him back. The child turned to his mother and said, “You told me if I said hi, they wouldn’t say anything!” We were taken aback by this assumption and tried to engage the mother in conversation.
“Why would you think that?” we asked her but the mother – probably embarrassed that we unintentionally showed her up in front of her kids – hustled her family away as quickly as possible. (Ironically, she did not reply when we addressed her.)
Story number two:
I needed a temp in my office, so I hired a friend of my friends who needed some part-time work. When she showed up, she created a not-so subtle stir, no doubt because of her hijab. All the right people (my boss, human resources, etc.) were perfectly fine with her but a couple of my coworkers voiced their displeasure to me.
Here was a woman who attended a school that was a division of a Jewish university. She crashed for six months on my Jewish friends’ couch. She helped to care for my ailing father a number of times when his home health aide was off. She had no problem with Jews but to some of my colleagues she was unacceptable simply because she chose to practice the religion in which she was raised. I was appalled.
Were you offended by the assumptions and stereotyping in story #1? If so, I hope you were at least as offended by story #2!
The Torah wants us to have empathy. Regarding converts, it tells us “You shall not oppress a stranger since you know what it’s like to be a stranger, seeing that you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Similarly, the Jewish version of the “golden rule” is phrased in a way that stresses empathy – “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Shabbos 31a).
Back to Rapaport who, as noted, is a man who gets it. He previously lost donations because some of his donors objected that Masbia, a strictly kosher soup kitchen, serves anyone, not just coreligionists. Rapaport told the JTA, “I don’t want to take anyone’s money under false pretense. Yes, I am personally very pro-immigrant, and if that makes me unqualified for your donation, please don’t give it to me.”
I have friends who strongly support the executive order, seeing it as a necessary stopgap measure to protect American citizens from those who would do us harm. I have other friends who vehemently decry the measure as xenophobic and Islamophobic. I hear both sides and I don’t need all my friends to be in political lockstep. What’s important to me is not the what so much as the why. If someone supported or opposed the ban for hateful reasons, I would disagree with them on the why even if we agreed on the what.
When I read about Rapaport, I see someone who has got it so right on the why that I would like to think people could overlook disagreeing on the what. Sadly, such is not the case.
Jews have been on the receiving end of baseless hatred since time immemorial. From blood libels to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, so much smack has been talked about us that we know isn’t true. (We don’t have horns and many of us do say hello on the street!) We should be the first ones to dismiss stereotypes about others.
Right, left or in between, have whatever politics you like but for the right reasons. Don’t let hate and fear cloud your choices. And when we disagree – as will happen – try to focus on what’s in a person’s heart. It’s our responsibility. In the words of Dr. Seuss in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.