What Does America Mean To You?

If someone was to ask me what America means in one word, I would say, “Freedom”. Freedom to say what you want to say. Freedom to believe what you want to believe. This is why America is the envy of other nations, and why extremist religious groups—of all ilks—hate us with a burning passion. This freedom that we have was hard fought, and we must continually fight to preserve it.

Perhaps this is why all the flak over the Islamic cultural center in New York bothers me. This Islamophobia has gotten so bad that Islamic groups are cancelling annual celebrations just because the calendar this year makes them happen on 9/11. That’s plain wrong. No religion should have to censor itself in this country; when that happens, that means our freedoms have been curtailed.

Back in the 1920s, there were intense phobias against the Jews. Men like Father Coughlin and, yes, Henry Ford, were virulently antisemetic. But Judaism, perhaps because it was understandable to mainstream Christianity (having come before it), got a pass. But ignorance seems to be celebrated in this country, and the ignorant fear what they do not know. The ignorant think all Islamics are terrorists, without understanding that Islam is just the next step in the progression of Judaism and Christianity. We haven’t yet had an accessible Islamic leader that can make Islam understood by the American people.

This fear is leading to idiotic arguments; arguments that would not occur if we were talking about any other religion. If zoning permitted a Christian cultural center near ground zero, it would be embraced. There would be no uproar about a Buddhist or Hindu cultural center in the area. If a Christian group wanted to have a carnival the weekend of 9/11, there would be no protests (remember, 9/11 is not a national day of observance yet). If there was a Shinto gathering that day, no one would care. So why are we upset when Islam wants to observe their religion. What makes the US special is simply that: they have the freedom to observe, without the government dictating anything.

Why can’t the Conservatives see that if we give in on that, we’re doing just what the terrorists who attacked the tower would want us to do: curtail our freedoms in response to their attack. We can’t do that. We must proudly celebrate our Religious freedom, as well as our feedom of speech. We must insist on the Islamic Cultural Center in that area just to demonstrate how important freedom of religion is to us; while we’re at it, let’s have centers for other religions (and a non-sectarian center) as well.

Our Bill of Rights is what makes America special. No right is greater than the other. As much as the 2nd amendment is cherished, and the 1st amendment is abused through the commenting mechanism on news websites, we must vigorously define our right to worship in a multitude of ways.

P.S.: Of course, if what you said America meant to you was “Baseball”, not “Freedom”, then you might want to read this article on the Lancaster Jethawks. Baseball as it was meant to be. I can attest to that, having been to a Jethawks game, and having found it immensely more enjoyable than any Dodger game.


Making Things Meaningless

There’s a very interesting article on CNN about a recent marriage in Virginia… which may now be illegal. Or perhaps not. You see, in this marriage, Antonio married Justine. However, Justine used to be Justin, and was still legally male in NC. According to VA law… if the bride was transgender it is unclear whether the marriage would be illegal.

Just like the ability to convert into Judaism nullifies any argument about whether Judaism is a race. Just like the prevalence of biracial and interracial couples is going to nullify any color boundaries (for example, Obama is as much white as he is black, making any racial claims completely meaningless). I believe that legal questions like those in Virginia, combined with the growth of transgender rights, will soon make the question of homosexual marriage meaningless. If gender identity isn’t 100% one way or the other (and for many, it isn’t), then who is to say when a marriage is same sex or not.

If your religion only wants a marriage between what appears to be a man and what appears to be woman, then have your clergy only perform those marriages. But from the point of view of the state, which is supposed to be neutral regarding religion, it shouldn’t make one whit of a difference.


Tzedek tzedek tirdof!

When I went to camp, there was a popular little ditty that primarily consisted of the following words: “Justice, justice, shall thou pursue!” I mention this because there’s a meme going around that states “We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post as “Gay Rights”. If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.” I have a lot of problems with this meme, both with its simplicity and its implications. Thinking about it brought up the song, and the statement from Deuteronomy 16:20 to pursue justice. Let’s look at this statement a little closer:

Justice, justice, shall thou pursue. What is justice? To me, it is treating people in equal relationships equally. There should be absolutely no differences in how people are treated in the establishment of loving committed relationships. Folks in such relationships, be they couples or multiples, be they heterogeneous or homogeneous, should be able to have such relationships recognized by the state, and obtain equal levels of recognition and benefits: be they survivorship, visitation, custody rights, access to medical records. There should be no difference. This is treating people as people, and not imposing my religious standards upon you.

Justice, justice, shall thou pursue. Justice extends to the treatment of people as individuals. Sexual orientation should not come into play in hiring decisions, accomodation decisions, or any other decision. That is justice: treating people based on their innate value as humans, not on any labels we place upon them. We saw the value of this during the civil rights fight, something we are still fighting today. As a Jew, this is something I fight every day, for there are still those that feel Jews have no value, based on their religion alone. We are humans, we have value.

Justice, justice, shall thou pursue. We are directed not just to believe in justice, but to pursue it. This notion of “doing” is something that was reemphasized during Yom Kippur. When we atone for past misdeeds, we don’t just vow to do better: we have to work and make the change. It is not sufficient to simply believe in the rights of people (be they color-based, orientation-based, gender-based, religion-based, etc.), but one must pursue it. I think that’s one of the things that bothers me about this meme: What good does posting a little meme do? It’s just a cut and paste.

Justice, justice, shall thou pursue. We need to do a vigorous pursuit, ala Cops. So, here’s what I charge you to do. First, write a few paragraphs of essay in your journal on why rights such as this are so important. Don’t copy the words that I wrote: write your own words from your heart, keeping the essence of the thought of pursuing justice. Secondly, make a committment to do something: be it making a contribution, signing a petition, volunteering some time. Posting a meme does nothing to repair the world, to pursue justice. Doing something does. After you have decided what you are going to do, edit your post to state what you are doing to pursue justice in this area.

Justice, justice, shall thou pursue. The last part of the meme states that if you don’t post the meme, you don’t care about rights. Nonsense! A meme is just electronic bits; if you don’t post anything, no harm and no foul. In the scheme of pursuit, memes are meaningless. But you are still responsible for pursuing justice, even if you do it silently, in the background. As I believe in the goodness of the folks reading this, I trust that you will.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof! Justice, justice, shall thou pursue! It’s not just a slogan, it’s a way to shape your life.