Jonah before the Torah, photo by Alison Frank Photography
Cheryl and I want to thank you for celebrating Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah with us. So many of you joined us last Shabbat and/or reached out to us to share your good wishes. Your kindness means the world to us and, of course, to Jonah. Thank you.
Because my son is now a “man,” I felt it was only appropriate that he take over my weekly message this week. It is my honor to share Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah D’var Torah (speech) below.
My Torah portion, Re’eh, is pretty rough. It describes the killing and destruction of other religions. For example, in Deuteronomy 12:3, God clearly states: “And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim (sacred objects) with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place.” While some people can argue that God is trying to be overly dramatic to gain the attention of all, this extremism really upsets me, especially since it comes from my own Torah portion. The Judaism that has been taught to me does not portray this kind of hatred. This hateful ideology would keep the world free from diversity.
I grew up here at Ramat Shalom, in the preschool then in a Jewish day-school, but I still remained a part of our synagogue. At this point in my life, I did not know much about, or the importance of diversity. I kind of lived in a nice, safe Jewish bubble. Once I began public school and eventually came to American Heritage this bubble popped. I began to understand how diverse the world really is and how good diversity can be.
The diversity that I have experienced has taught me many things. I learned about different cultures and how many of them share the same values, lessons, and teachings. This proves that diversity is not a bad thing because it teaches the same morals, just in different ways. My new, diverse environment helped remove certain stereotypes and false judgements from my head. For example, non-Jewish parents can be just as over protective and neurotic as my Jewish parents. I also learned that non-Jewish families can be just as loving and accepting as my Jewish family.
For my bar mitzvah I am twinning with a child named Aharon Moshe Fish, who was born in 1934 and lived somewhere in Hungary. Aharon was never able to have a bar mitzvah of his own because he was murdered in Auschwitz in 1945. He was 10 years old. As I read how my Torah portion was really not in favor of diversity, I began to wonder…The hatred of diversity not only took Aharon’s life but over 6 million Jews and another 5 million other innocent people. And on top of this Aharon was adopted, so no one knows where he came from and if he was even Jewish by birth. If people were more tolerant and accepting then the Holocaust and other catastrophic events may not have happened.
In today’s world, the fear of diversity remains a threat. Terrorism, racism, antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and hate are all based on a fear of the other, a fear of diversity. Could all of this stem from religion? From the ancient ideas expressed in my Torah portion? If so, how do we rise above such an old practice, especially since I read the words that preached against diversity today as part of my becoming a bar mitzvah!?
This is how we do it: we challenge the words just as I did this morning. We embrace our own religions, ethnicities, and racial backgrounds, while saying loudly and proudly that fear of diversity is wrong. But words are not enough. We have to let our bubbles burst. We need to move outside of comfort zones and live and interact with “the other.” And when we do, we will discover, just like we do in this sanctuary today, more often than not, that the other is our brother, is our sister.
Thank you so much for sharing Jonah’s torah interpretation. I live in NY in another Jewish bubble and raised my two boys here. They are now 23 and almost 26. Jonah raises some extremely intuitive and poignant ideas about diversity and the role it plays in society. His words really resonated with me especially during this days before the Jewish holiday season and our nation’s election. Education and communication are critical to help create and maintain a decent society. Jonah’s words give me hope that young people today will have the education and experience that is needed to reach across the aisle and find compromise. It even seems possible that someday if young people like Jonah speak out we could have a peaceful world. Mazel Tov to you, your family, and your temple family you all must be very proud.
Thank you Sherri!