Friday, September 30, 2022

Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry

As I write this, Jews all over the world are approaching the end of the Ten Days of Repentance, the period of time between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). While most people associate New Year with parties and making resolutions (the majority of which are seldom kept), Jewish New Year is a bit more serious. Yes, we have a festive meal, along with apples and honey, representing the wish for a sweet new year; but then, we enter a time of reflection, when we look back on what we accomplished, but also look back at where we missed the mark, where we failed to do the right thing, where we did not live up to the ideals we claim to have.

According to tradition, during the Ten Days of Repentance, we should sincerely apologize to those we have wronged. Whether the wrong was intentional or accidental, it's still an opportunity for us to reestablish communication with those who did not see us at our best. We've all treated others unfairly or taken out our mood on someone who didn't deserve it.  But even when, deep down, we know we were in the wrong, we often don't make amends. Instead, we blame the other person. Or we stop talking to them (or avoid them)-- anything rather than admitting that maybe we could have handled things better. And that's how relationships that could still be repaired never get fixed. 

If I'm being honest about myself, a lot of folks did not see me at my best this past year. Maybe it's the remnants of the pandemic (a lot of us lived on Zoom for a year and a half, and we lost many of our social skills); or maybe it's stress from various things in my life, like my husband's illness (he's better now, but things were kind of scary for a while). But the fact remains: I don't believe I was my usual friendly self much of the time. Instead, I often felt tense, or awkward, or impatient.  And I know for a fact that sometimes I took it out on people I care about. 

I regret it. I wish I had handled this past year much better than I did. And all I can do is say I'm sorry and promise to try to do better in the year ahead. But sometimes, saying that doesn't seem nearly enough. I guess in many ways, I'm my own harshest critic and I have a difficult time feeling like I deserve another chance. But during the Ten Days of Repentance, being self-critical isn't the goal. This period of time is an opportunity to ask forgiveness from others (as well as from God)...and to be willing to make a new start. Too many of us are so focused on our mistakes that we miss the chance to start again.   

And so, I hope those of you I've wronged will accept my apology. In a world where there is often far too much anger and too many people holding grudges, we can all use an opportunity to forgive-- and to be forgiven. And that is my wish for you who are reading my blog, whether you are Jewish or not: I hope that the New Year will bring more kindness, more patience, and above all, more forgiveness-- for me, for you, and for all of us.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Making Time for Compassion

I've been thinking a lot about religion these past few days-- and not just because the Jewish New Year will be here soon. What made me think about it is a news story many of you have heard about-- how Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, shipped a planeload of "illegals," most from Venezuela and Columbia, up to Massachusetts. He claimed he was doing it because Joe Biden has an "open borders" policy and it's time for Democrats in "sanctuary cities" to share the burden of all the illegal immigrants pouring across the border. 

(Of course, if this was about punishing Democrats in Blue States, Massachusetts has a Republican governor, but that's evidently beside the point. Also beside the point-- Pres. Biden has never spoken in favor of open borders, and like all previous presidents from both parties, he has struggled to control the flow of desperate people trying to get into the United States. Meanwhile, for years, Congress has been unable to get together on a solution to what everyone acknowledges is our broken immigration system. But I digress.)  

Supporters of Governor DeSantis applauded his action in flying the migrants up to a Blue State. He was praised on conservative talk shows too. Republicans politicians were almost gleeful at the thought of owning the libs by dumping lots of "illegals" on their doorsteps. Similarly, supporters of Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott applauded when he shipped thousands of migrants up to New York and Chicago and Washington DC, all to score cheap political points, and to energize the Republican base, rather than addressing the root causes of the surge of folks at the border. (And no, it's not because there's a Democrat in office-- Republican presidents have struggled to find an answer too-- ask George W. Bush.)

But here's why I was thinking about religion. Many of the folks who were the most gleeful about seeing the "illegals" get shipped to the Blue States were folks who claim to be religious. They attend church, they quote scripture, and based on what I see on social media, they frequently pass judgment on everything that's wrong in society. And they have no sympathy for "illegals"-- they want them all shipped back to their countries, even the folks fleeing persecution or running from gangs. They seem to share the view that these immigrants don't deserve to claim asylum; they seem to believe that these are criminals who, in the words of a certain former president, are "bringing drugs; they're bringing crime; they're rapists..." 

Agreed, there are bad apples in every bunch. But the hungry and exhausted men and women and children who arrived in Martha's Vineyard, an island community nowhere near the big city of Boston (where the migrants were told they were going), did not seem to be criminals. They seemed to be people in search of a better life. Should they have crossed the border illegally? Probably not. But that is a bigger conversation, and as I said, it's one that politicians have been avoiding for several decades. Meanwhile, here they were, with no warning. By some accounts, Gov. DeSantis even hired a videographer to take photos of the chaos that he seemed to hope would occur upon the plane's arrival. More cheap political points-- but beneficial for his reelection campaign.

No chaos occurred, however. Instead, there was compassion. People of all religions and all backgrounds leaped into action and welcomed the new arrivals. People fed them and sheltered them. People made arrangements for a Catholic mass, and for medical care. Of course it wasn't an ideal situation (contrary to myth, Martha's Vineyard isn't just a playground for the super-rich... there are lots of residents who are far from wealthy). Of course people were concerned about whether they had enough resources to help. But all of that was put aside as everyone focused on doing the right thing.

So, perhaps that's the lesson: sometimes, being religious isn't about finger-pointing at those who are breaking the rules, or being gleeful when your perceived enemy is suffering. Sometimes being religious means showing the same love and understanding you would want God to show you in a time of crisis. I know we need to find a solution to the problems at the border, but I can't believe any God would want to punish people whose crime was seeking a better life; and I can't believe any Scripture would encourage us to hate or mock such people. So, welcome to Massachusetts, whoever you are. I'm sorry you were treated with such disdain in Florida and Texas. And I pray this will be the start of better things for you. And as for the folks who are applauding your struggles, I wonder how much mercy and compassion God will have for them when Judgment Day arrives...