The Larger Family
a holiday missive from Simon
In a few hours I'll be heading over to my parents' place for our traditionally non-religious celebration of Rosh Hashanah. My brilliant nephews (including recently Bar Mitzvah'd Jonah) will recapitulate the meaning of the holiday. There will be much talk of the election (in my house, the day's political news may as well be on an ancient scroll). Apples will be dipped in honey as we wish each other sweetness at the beginning of a calendar we don't observe. That's how we secular types roll, so L'shana tovah, whatever that means.
But just because I'm not versed in Hebrew and have no metaphysical beliefs doesn't mean I'm not aware of and reflecting on the tradition.
Julia and I were cruising home from the gym yesterday afternoon and listening to Speaking of Faith on NPR; I heard a familiar voice talking about the Days of Awe and realized it was Reboot regular, IKAR luminary and Very Hot Rabbi Sharon Brous. She spoke interestingly about the scriptural legacy of dysfunctional families and about the Jews and Muslims, descendants of Abraham by different mothers.
And then I came home to a story about someone spraying a "chemical irritant" through the window of a mosque in Dayton, Ohio. As the congregation was offering Ramadan prayers. As children slept in another room. They all began coughing and flooded outside while the authorities arrived to investigate.
The incident may have been spurred, in part, by a propaganda DVD called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, which was circulated in swing-state newspapers by a right-wing organization. And it just goes to show you how easily even folks in heartland, family-values America can get whipped up into a child-gassing frenzy for fear of the demonized Other.
No one was hurt, I'm happy to report, but make no mistake: This was both a hate crime and a domestic terror attack.
A director of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, quoted in a local paper, expressed fear that members of their flock wouldn't feel safe enough to return. I want you to think about that. I want you to imagine if such a thing had happened at your temple or church.
On a recent episode of the Showtime series Weeds (created by our brilliant, VHJ pal Jenji), protagonist Nancy's Jewish father-in-law, played by Albert Brooks, is trying to explain to his grandson the necessity of preventing another holocaust. "It must never happen again," he declares piously. His grandson is incredulous. Never happen again? What about Darfur? Rwanda? Bosnia? "No, I mean, it must never happen again to us," the grandfather huffs. I was glad to see the show puncture such insular Jewish piety. It's our responsibility to treat all the genocides in the world - as well as smaller acts of violence and intimidation - as assaults on our own family.
If these Days of Awe, which culminate in our asking forgiveness for our transgressions, have any meaning, the children of Sarah need to let the children of Hagar know this will not stand. So here's a message from the Very Hot Jews to the Muslims of Dayton and every other Islamic congregation in America: An attack on your community is an attack on ours. And the despicable hatemongers behind this heinous act deserve the same condemnation from us as if they'd perpetrated it against IKAR or the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
To say otherwise would be a grievous sin of omission.