31 August 2010

Passion (or, in Hebrew, the middah/value of z'rizut)

I thought that I would (with his permission) share this letter that I just received from congregant, Stephen Schoeman.  I find his comments well-reasoned, thought-provoking, and, dare I say it, passionate:

Dear Rabbi Abraham,

        Many years ago Rabbi Goldman gave a sermon on passion which I have always remembered and which has inspired me over the intervening years. He was not referring to the passion of love but to the passion of belief in a cause.

       Sadly, today, there is so little passion. I don't see it in my college students with a few exceptions. I don't see it in Congress or in The White House or most anywhere else in the political world. Or among the clergy (no reference to you).  Or in the general population.

         There was passion in the 1960's. True, a terrible decade of assassinations, civil rights murders, the Vietnam War, and bloody civil rights marches. But there was a passion on the college campuses and in the churches and temples missing today or at least it seems to me.

         President Jimmy Carter in his famous "malaise speech" told the American people that they were materialistic and selfish. This speech, panned by the press and the public, led to his defeat to Ronald Reagan so it has been said.  

         President Carter, of course, was right and displays today in his humanitarian work with his Carter Center the passion he wanted in others back then. I know that he is persona non grata to many American Jews who know little if anything about the Carter Center or about his writings or remember, if they ever knew, that it was HE who made possible peace between Israel and Egypt. Even Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat thought the task impossible.
          President Kennedy also called for passion as in the Peace Corps.
          President Lyndon Johnson in his Great Society and War on Poverty called for passion.
          Hubert Humphrey called for passion.
          Martin Luther King, Jr. called for passion.
          And there, of course, were others.

          Today? As I said, passion is in short supply. One of the major criticisms of President Obama is that he does not show passion for his programs and policies. I think there is some truth to this about his more cerebral approach to politics and the nation's and the world's problems. But he is not alone in this criticism. Nor am I trying to be partisan.

            I am a life long liberal registered Democrat as has my family been for one hundred years.

            Where is the passion in the editorials in The New York Times?

            But there is passion. And it, sadly, comes mostly from the far Right. The Pallins and the Becks and the Limbaughs and the Cheneys. I don't fault them for their views. They have a right to them. But where on the Left is the opposing passion? From President Obama? From Senate Majority Leader Reid? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has passion. She was, I understand, the person who persuaded President Obama after the Senate defeat in Massachusetts to continue the fight for health care reform.

             I do not want to be partisan. I am not attempting to be. I do want the youth of our country, if not the adults, to show passion, to care, to protest, to march, to object, to raise concerns about the public good. It once was so. It can be again today.

             Enough of the comings and goings of Paris Hilton and Brad Pitt and the rest of the celebrities. Enough of the reality TV shows. Enough of the twitter, Facebook, Google, Blackberry, Fax, Ipod technology-the new toys of our age.

             And more attention paid to the public policies problems, small and large, which must be solved if this country is to survive and prosper. The crumbling infrastructure. Race relations. A collapsing economy. The tens of millions of people out of work, under-employed, discouraged from looking for a job, foreclosed, or having seen their business go bust.

            We know that passion for Israel among the youth is dwindling. Passion for the United Nations may not even exist anymore. Nor passion about global warming. Or health care reform. Or civil rights. Or environmental degradation. Or tolerance. The list is nearly endless.

            We need passion more than ever. I do not mean passion without judgment or fact. I do mean the caring and the giving and the concern which mark a humane society.

            I hope my words may be inspiration for one of your monthly columns in Temple Topics or for a sermon or for both.

            Kindest personal regards.

            Steve Schoeman

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