Friday, January 16, 2009

The Next Generation

In memory of Eidla bas Avraham Yonah, who lived to the age of 95, as sharp as she was growing up in Memphis. She was a role model for the idea that you're never too old to learn something new.

If you missed last week's post on the war in Gaza, see the "Here, Israel" link to the right - including how to "adopt" a soldier.

This week: a comment, a story, a story, and a question.

The comment:

I was in San Francisco this week and someone wanted to know: What is the Jewish view of the new leadership in Washington?

The question reminds me of a story, my first day teaching public school in rural Mississippi.

Fresh out of college on the West Coast, I'd never been to the South before. Some of my mostly-black students were suspicious of me for my whiteness as were some of my white neighbors (for my choosing to teach black students. (Most were just surprised that an outsider had taken interest in their little corner of the world.)

The students let me know that what they wanted most from me was to treat them "normal". What the white people wanted most from me was not to make waves. I never had any problems with anyone who met me, only those who saw me from afar, or heard about me.

For example, I once heard through the grapevine that some folks were talking about me because they saw me talking in a friendly way to a certain black person in the grocery store.

Similarly, once I had to call the father of one of my more challenging students in to school to discuss his son's behavior. His son, Toby, was rude to me and often refused to follow directions. The father was six-foot-two and spoke with a deep, slow voice. He came in wearing the dusty clothes of a lumberjack. had to take time off from his low-paying job, and this displeased him.

He spoke to me so deliberately it sounded like he was putting a comma between every word, "I, hear, you, are, too, hard, on, the, children."

It is no accident that Jewish people have been at the forefront of civil rights movements around the world. We should look at Obama's presidency as a great victory for Jewish values. Our vision of leadership is a meritocracy, period.

Or that's the way it's supposed to be at least.

Here's a mini Talmudic story you can tell at your dinner table:

On Yom Kippur, the High Priest used to make a giant break-the-fast feast. Everyone knew and believed that what he did in the Temple that day was on their behalf. So when he came out successfully, the crowd would cheer and escort him. Remember, the High Priesthood can only be held by a direct male descendant of Aaron, Moses's brother. No one else need bother apply.

One Yom Kippur, while being escorted by such a crowd, there was a sudden commotion through the crowd, and all of the people suddenly abandoned him to follow two scholars who had been seen passing down a side street. These were not just any two scholars - they were Shemayah and Abtalion, the greatest of the generation. And they were both descended from converts.

Question for your table - how do you interpret this story? What does it say about merit versus peerage?

(Question for children: How do you decide whom to be friends with? How do the other kids in your class decide?)

I was in record warm weather in San Francisco this week, to return to weather so cold it feels like we're headed for a record low. But things are supposed to warm up next week in Washington...

Shabbat Shalom

PS - sometimes we combine scholarship and royalty - have you heard of the royal rabbi from Swaziland? See also

Here he is telling his story:

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