Good and bad

Joseph Aaron

I don’t ever remember so many lives being so overturned so dramatically.

One of the things I feel is so missing from all the tumult we have witnessed over the last year is a sense of the human element, that all the big fish making big news are first and foremost human beings.

Yes they may be creeps and crooks and perverts and disgusting and yet even they are people.

One of the many things that seem to have gotten lost in our technology dominated world is a sense of feeling for other human beings. We have to a scarily large extent stopped seeing people as people. Rather they are just beings out there who check us out on Facebook or whose tweets we follow, whose instagram photos we are envious of or disgusted by.

And in today’s super partisan environment, where people will take a position or view an issue solely by the team they are on, it’s all about who is with us and who is against us, are we Trump supporters and so required to automatically be for Brett Kavanaugh and doubt Christine Blasey Ford or are we a never Trumper and so feel the exact opposite.

It seems no longer do we evaluate things based on looking at what’s going on but rather because it lines up with who we have decided to identify with and so we just follow suit without examining the people involved, the behaviors involved, without trying to determine what we really think, how we really feel.

People today to a large extent really don’t think things through, really don’t get in touch with how they are feeling. Rather it’s all about the label you wear and the obligations that requires of you.

And so you have Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, so determined to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court that what Dr. Ford had to say doesn’t affect him at all, indeed nothing does. He wants the nomination to go through and will do everything he can to make it so, not stopping for a second to hear what the FBI found or whose story he finds more believable or the temperament and demeanor of the judge. I frankly never thought I would see the day that a nominee for the Supreme Court would repeat over and over how much he liked beer.

But such is today’s world. I know I can sound like an old geezer when I talk like this, always hearkening back to the good old days, always bemoaning the state of things today. But the fact is there is so much going on that is not normal, that is not human, and that is affecting the Jewish world as much as it does the rest of the world.

I have felt it personally. I’ve been doing this Jewish journalism thing a long time and I have always been outspoken, taken controversial positions, spoken my mind. For a long time, I very much enjoyed how many people would tell me they never missed reading my column even though “I don’t always agree with you.”

I loved that. To me that is what journalism is about and more importantly that is what Judaism is about. That we listen to what each other has to say, keep a connection to each other, even when we don’t agree, don’t like what the other Jew has to say.

Disagreeing, debating, arguing, giving very different perspectives goes to the very heart of Judaism. That is what we have always done and we are by far the stronger for it. There’s a reason so many civilizations have come and gone but that Judaism has endured, despite, as we all know, having to wander the world and having to put up with all kinds of really bad treatment at the hands of so many.

But we have always had an inner strength born of a bond we felt with each other. No we didn’t always see things the same way, but even so we engaged with each other, we heard each other out, we told each other where the other guy was wrong, but we always kept talking, always felt that we are all fellow Jews, even where we didn’t agree.

I fear those days are very close to over. We have all gone to our own corners, all only want to listen to those who see things exactly as we do, only feel connected to Jews who are exactly as we are, do things as we do, believe the same things we do. If you are a Jew who is for a two state solution, those who are not, not only want nothing to do with you but feel entitled, no feel it is their duty, to label you, berate you, destroy you.

So it is with the different denominations. We don’t say live and let live, you be a Jew as you think best and I will be a Jew as I think best but in the end we are all Jews, we are all connected. No now we even question if Jews not like us are Jews at all. We do all we can to prevent Jews not like us from being seen as Jewish at all.

Look all around you, look at the Jewish world today, see how much discord there is, how much viciousness there is, how much effort there is to silence those who say things you don’t agree with, how much we all retreat into our own corners, have nothing to do with each other and feel it is our Jewish duty to attack and belittle Jews who don’t share our perspectives.

That is not healthy for Judaism and indeed that is not Judaism. But I see how much we not only don’t see Jews not like us as Jews but indeed don’t even see them as human beings. And in that we are part of a larger societal and cultural place.

The whole Kavanaugh mess really highlighted that, but the truth is it’s been going on all over the place for quite a while. What disturbs me most is how we have stopped understanding that people are people and that all people, even those that misbehave, indeed even those that do horrible things, still deserve our compassion and our sympathy.

I think the first time I really had a sense of that was when Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election. Put yourselves in his place for a minute. He got more than a half million more votes than George W., there is no doubt that Gore would have won Florida if 3,000 elderly Jews didn’t get confused by a horribly designed ballot and wind up mistakenly voting for that anti-Semite Pat Buchanan. Even Buchanan himself said no way Jews in heavily Jewish Palm Beach meant to vote for him. And Florida’s governor happened to be the brother of Gore’s opponent.

Look, hate Gore, hate everything he stands for. My point is how can you not just on a human level feel bad for a guy who didn’t just lose the presidency but did so under very weird circumstances. You can be happy he lost, happy W. won and still feel bad for Gore, understand the pain he will feel his whole life, how difficult it must be to lose like he did.

And here’s an even tougher one for you since there are so many Jews who absolutely hate Hillary Clinton’s guts. Again be happy she lost if you wish but how about some human feeling for someone who got three million more votes, had the head of the FBI just a week before the election make a totally unprecedented move and announce the reopening of an investigation that made it seem like she was going to be arrested any day, an announcement FBI directors never make and that could have been avoided if he had spent two days checking that the emails on pervy Anthony Weiner’s computer were in fact not new ones and so there was no need to reopen the investigation. And all that is not to mention how much Russia did to keep her from winning, doing things to mess with our democracy.

Again you can hate Hillary all you want, be overjoyed Trump won and moved the embassy and killed the Iran deal but just on a human level, can you imagine the pain and loss Hillary will feel the rest of her life. I know you don’t care, she deserves it, tough for her. And that is my point. That is how we feel about everyone these days. All we can do is hate on them, never do we recognize our shared humanity and that we can open our hearts to them even if we disagree with and are disgusted by everything about them.

Let me admit something. When I heard that Bill Cosby had been sentenced to jail and was immediately put in handcuffs and taken off to prison, I felt bad for him, sad for him. Of course I am beyond disgusted at how he abused so many women for so many years. His behavior is inexcusable, was indeed criminal and he is paying for it.

I could feel all those things about what he did and still feel bad that someone of his age who spent his whole adult life as a revered icon, who brought so much joy to so many, who was one of the all-time giants of comedy, fell to that point, disgraced, all the good he has ever done erased from everyone’s mind, his reputation destroyed, his obituary sure to focus foremost on what a creep and pervert and disgusting person he was.

He was all those things but he was also a lot of other things and most of all he is a human being. You can be disgusted by the guy, be glad justice was served, are happy to see him locked up, and still have some sympathy for what it must be like to be him, to be sitting in that cell day after day after day alone, disgraced, his life shattered. I despise how he behaved and yet yes, I do feel bad for him. He’s a human being and his whole life has been destroyed.

But I learned the world we live in today when I mentioned to a friend that I was feeling bad for Cosby. Boy did they let me have it. They screamed at me that how could I feel bad for such a bum, how could I dare to see him as a human being when all he is is an abuser of women, someone who drugged women and took advantage of them, used his fame to violate and ruin the lives of so many women.

I told the person I agreed that his behavior was beyond reprehensible but that yes, I still did feel bad for him. They would not accept that, kept berating me about what a monster he is and wouldn’t stop until finally I said you’re right I don’t feel bad for him.

That’s how it is today. You can’t be all for Kavanaugh to be on the Court and still feel bad for what Dr. Ford endured, for how the assault she suffered, by whoever, so dramatically changed her life. You can be for him to be on the Court and have compassion for her. That’s what I would like to think but clearly that does not seem to be acceptable in today’s world.

Today you are either on my side, my team in which case you can do no wrong or you are not on my side in which case you can do no right. Everything today is black and white, no gray allowed.

It is ironic to me that the whole Kavanaugh thing happened during the High Holiday season, a time when we see how godly G-d is. G-d tells us no  matter how much bad we have done in the last year, how disgusting has been our behavior, how much it is opposed to what the Torah teaches us, He still loves us, and is still open to hearing from us, accepting our repentance and giving us a second chance.

As Jews we should be so thankful that in a world which more and more shows no one compassion, in a Jewish world where we destroy all those Jews who are not like us, there is G-d above who always sees us as human beings.

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