Compassion for Roseanne

Joseph Aaron

I feel bad for Roseanne.

No, that does not make me a racist or one who tolerates or excuses racism. It does make me a Jew and a human being.

I must admit this whole Roseanne thing has really occupied my thoughts and kishkes. I think it says so much about so much, starting with how little compassion there seems to be, not only in society these days, but even sadder in Jewish society these days.

There is so much tribalism going on these days, you’re either a Trump lover or a Trump hater, you either think pulling out of the Iran deal and moving the embassy to Jerusalem are among the greatest things ever done, or are major disasters and boneheaded moves. We all seem to have reverted to our corners, embraced only our team and so find it very easy to demonize, dismiss, condemn and dispose of anyone who does or says or believes or acts not exactly as we do.

What is missing most of all these days in the world, and in the Jewish world, is any sense of compassion, of recognizing that we are all human beings, and so all make mistakes and so all are sometimes in need of forgiveness, or at least understanding.

What Roseanne said was very wrong, indeed despicable. But she’s still a Jew and still a person. Someone who made a huge mistake and has paid an enormous price. Even if we hate what she said, hate that she is a Trump supporter, we can still feel bad for her, feel bad for someone who, in the blink of a tweet, destroyed her career, lost tens of millions of dollars, became an object of scorn, tarnished everything she has worked for.

Imagine how hard that must be. Imagine that early one morning, at about 2:48 in the morning, you type a few words into your phone, hit send, and as a result of that one tweet, within 12 hours or so, your livelihood and reputation are gone, destroyed.

We really need to be as quick to remember that there is a human being behind every stupid action, and that every human being is deserving of some sense of kindness, even as we condemn what they’ve done.

Especially in a world where everything moves so very fast, has such major consequences. I have long said that the world in which we live, where we are all more and more enslaved to the Facebook and the twitter and the iPhone and texting, is eroding our individual humanity and is destroying the bonds between people.

It is so very easy to say any ugly thing that pops into your head when you are all alone, device in hand and can type anything about anyone and send it out for the entire world to see. Most of us, if we were face to face with someone, were looking into their eyes, saw them in the flesh, would never say the things we are so fast to tweet out, post on Facebook, text about.

It is eating away at our souls, for it deprives us of any human instinct to be thoughtful, to be careful, to be kind, to be restrained, to watch what we say. Our devices make it so very easy for us to be mean and nasty and snarky and ugly and just let it rip, spill our guts without bothering to engage our brain or soul or heart.

I really find it amazing that Roseanne all alone in the middle of the night did not stop herself from typing such reprehensible words. Why did she pick on Valerie Jarrett of all people? Obama is no longer in the White House, no one is talking about Jarrett, she no longer has any power and yet for reasons that it is almost literally impossible to fathom, Roseanne had no problem typing out such ugliness and sending it out, thus destroying herself and her show with the touch of a button.

That is the world we live in where someone can do what she did, would do as she did, had nothing inside to stop her, and suffered so quickly such horrible consequences. And while you may not be sending out disgusting tweets like Roseanne, my guess is if you look back at your tweets and your posts, you’d find some pretty ugly stuff, whether about Jews who are Jews not like you or someone you know that you felt no hesitation to attack. We don’t seem to care who we hurt with our words, because we are so disconnected from our feelings since it is so easy to type a few words straight from the gut, and because we don’t have to deal with the actual person we are aiming our words at.

It is only going to get worse as less and less do we engage with each other as human beings, think of each other as human beings, see that compassion and understanding and kindness and forgiveness are still traits to be valued and practiced.

Today, make a mistake and you’re done, finished, shunned, and all of it literally within hours, before people can even really take in what happened, consider it, decide what appropriate consequences should be, whether there are ways to make amends, apologize, learn from your mistakes.

I am very glad that G-d is not on twitter.

G-d, among the very many gifts he has given each of us and given the Jewish people as a whole, has given us the gift of tshuva, of repenting, of doing a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual accounting, where we recognize our sins, feel remorse for them, apologize for them and vow to try and not to repeat them.

As bad as we may act, as horribly as we may speak, G-d gives us the time and space and means to repent, to take responsibility and then to move on. Indeed one wise rabbi once said that we all stray from the path of correct behavior, but the minute we realize we have, we have begun to earn our way back. That is the essence, the heart and soul of tshuva, of repentance.

No, I don’t excuse Roseanne’s insane and ugly words, but I do feel bad for her, feel bad that something possessed her to type such meanness, nothing stopped her, nothing said to her that this is not the way a decent person talks, nothing restrained her from sending it out for everyone to read. My guess is if she had been in the same room, looking in the face of Valerie Jarrett, she never would have said what she said. Even if she was thinking it, even if she was feeling it, with another person in front of her, she would have stopped herself.

Today there is nothing to stop us, today it is so easy to be so mean and it is so easy to destroy someone when they are. There seems to be no second chances these days, no opportunities to apologize, feel bad, make amends, do tshuva. Roseanne typed a few words and so within hours her show was cancelled, her talent agency dumped her, she was totally scrubbed from the ABC website and she was universally condemned as the most horrible person on the face of the planet.

I feel bad for Roseanne and I felt especially bad after I read that two days after her tweet she did an interview with Rabbi Shmuly Boteach. During the interview, according to the rabbi, Roseanne cried and apologized for her racist tweet.

Barr “was sobbing and very apologetic about the whole thing,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, which cited an unnamed source. Boteach himself tweeted “I have known @therealroseanne for 20 years. She has apologized for what she acknowledges is a violation of Torah values & in the spirit of Jewish repentance. It is time America learned to forgive so that we may together affirm the image of G-d, and equal dignity of all humankind.”

He’s right. Yes, even Roseanne deserves compassion and to be forgiven. Especially by Jews, though my guess is Jews will be the last to forgive since they have to prove how pure they are, wear their condemnation of her as a badge of honor proving how not racist they are, which they have decided is more important than showing that as Jews we forgive each other, yes, expect a person to do tshuva, but when they do, yes we do forgive just as we want G-d to forgive us when we transgress.

Why I feel so bad for Roseanne is not only that she so quickly paid such a horrible price for typing a few horrible words in the middle of the night on a phone, but because there are a lot of Jews out there saying what to me are far uglier words and suffering no consequences and seeing no reason at all to apologize, indeed feel noble about their attitude.

For instance, we had author Michael Chabon, who delivered a diatribe against Jewish inmarriage. Chabon, author of several acclaimed novels, spoke about how he once wanted his children to marry Jews, but now opposes the idea of Jews marrying Jews. He also spoke of his own atheism and dislike of obligatory Jewish rituals, and asserted that the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt was fabricated.

As for Jewish inmarriage, he called it a ‘ghetto of two’ and said, “It draws a circle around the married couple, inscribing them and any children who come along in the figurative wall of tradition, custom, shared history and a common inheritance of chromosomes and culture.” He added that “Any religion that relies on compulsory endogamy to survive has, in my view, ceased to make the case for its continued validity in the everyday lives of human beings.”

I understand that intermarriage is a hot button topic for many, and I understand that Jews have all kinds of opinions about all kinds of things and that indeed our ability to respectfully disagree and argue is one of our greatest strengths. But why did Chabon not make his case without the ugliness and accusatory and belittling attitude, why did he need to be so critical of those who see things not as he does, who think that Jews marrying Jews is a good thing, something we have held dear for thousands of years. You can be fine with intermarriage, without needing to denigrate inmarriage.

I was more offended by Chabon’s arrogance and lack of respect for his fellow Jews of all kinds, than I was by Roseanne’s disgusting tweet, for which she has apologized, which Chabon has not.

I feel bad that we are so hell-bent on showing no compassion for Roseanne. Twitter and Facebook have done a great job of robbing us of our judgment, our humanity and our Jewish souls. If you don’t at least feel sorry for Roseanne on a human and Jewish level, don’t expect anyone to show you compassion when you mess up. Not showing each other kindness is the world we are now living in.

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