Rising Above Political Rhetoric

I hope everyone enjoyed their summer.  I am happy to back blogging.  I know I have lots of comments to sort through. Sorry for the delay!
 
I was raised by a Republican father and a Democratic mother.  As I was growing up, when it came time to elect the President of the United States, my house was always filled with interesting discussions.  There was one fundamental rule that guided these discussions: respect was required.  If you couldn’t speak respectfully about the candidates and the issues, you were discouraged from taking part in my family’s lively debates.  My grandmother, who to this day will admit that she has a lot of trouble following this family rule, used to excuse herself from the debates to take a bath.  She was a very clean woman.
 
Cheryl and I try very hard to encourage Abigail and Jonah to respect all of our elected officials and the entire political process.  We watched the Republican Convention this week and will watch the Democratic Convention with the kids next week.  We talk openly and respectfully about many of the issues.  My children understand that while you might not like a politician’s stance on certain issues, this does not make him/her a bad person.
 
When it comes to the current Presidential campaign, the hateful, fallacious political words being used by people throughout the political spectrum disturb me greatly.  In everyday conversations, on Facebook and via email, we don’t hesitate to demonize an entire group of people just because they hold different positions on important national issues.  It is okay to disagree with each other on the issues – but when we attack the very character of someone because s/he believes this or that – this, to me, flies in the face of what it means to be an American.  It is also not Jewish.
 
The Rabbis teach us to “judge every person favorably.” (Pirke Avot 1:6)  Focus on the good in people.  Every person has his or her flaws.  No one is going to think exactly like you do or embrace every one of your beliefs. We are each unique.   Judaism urges us to embrace our uniqueness by encouraging us to learn from each other – respectfully debating and always respecting each other.  The Torah insists that we are forbidden to “go about as a talebearer” – meaning, we must never engage in derogatory or damaging discussions about someone else or that generate animosity between people.  Judaism teaches us that “a knowledgeable person is sparing with her words.”  (Proverbs 17:27)  As we get closer to the High Holidays and the Presidential election, we must take this wisdom to heart.
 
Yesterday, Abigail and I were talking about politics and she said wanted to be the first woman President.  What American father wouldn’t like to hear this from his daughter?  But, I must admit that a part of me wants to discourage Abigail’s dream because I am afraid of what people would say about her, us, her Judaism, her gender, her skin color, how she was raised, who she will be married to……This is sad.
 
Let’s remember that Judaism encourages us to look for the good in people.  Let’s do our part to turn down the rhetoric and encourage healthy debate and discussion.  I want to encourage my kid to be the first woman President of the United States.  And I know I am not the only parent who would like to see this happen.  Let’s teach our kids and grandkids that the political process can be a respectful one.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Rabbi Andrew