Treat people with respect.
Handle your frustrations appropriately.
Take care of your responsibilities.
Sounds so easy in theory. Why is it so tough to execute in practice?
A parenting therapist we once frequented, encouraged us as young parents to establish some ground rules for our family that captured our most basic values. We came up with these three.
At the time my children were little and we were navigating their fights, the way we interacted and spoke to each other and the family culture and atmosphere we were trying (often in vein) to create in our home.
There are of course many other ideas we care about deeply, but the point was to boil it down to core concepts that are always true and applicable, no matter what the situation.
Over the years I have thought about these values and the way they also reflect an underlying hope for the way we might ideally strive to function beyond our home– with our extended families, within our communities, on social media platforms, in politics and governments, and as a greater society.
People should not have to agree or see eye to eye in order to treat each other with respect and handle the frustration they are experiencing in appropriate ways.
For months, we have felt dejected by the rhetoric surrounding us on all sides. The issues are real, the various arguments are valid, the divides are significant, the fissures are deep, the solutions are not entirely clear, and the proposed compromises are tough to reach.
But what do we tell our (now) teenage children when treating others with respect does not appear to be in vogue and our polarized world instead celebrates those who yell the loudest and speak the strongest?
It is easy to feel stuck and hopeless.
Is it possible to take care of our sacred duties and responsibilities without compromising on our value of respectful and measured discourse? Are there ways to encourage positive outlets for channeling frustration? Can we still talk to and dialogue with those who feel and think differently than we do?
This morning we woke up early to find out.
With a huge sign in tow, we set off to Jerusalem. There we participated in a prayer gathering at the Kotel that was arranged by leaders who hold a spectrum of opinions on judicial reform. The goal was to declare “ואהבת”-that we can love each other as people despite our positions and passionate beliefs.
On our sign, my son had painted:
!אחדות ישראל מוטלת עלי! לאהבת אחים אין תנאים
The unity of Israel is dependent on me! Loving our brothers has no pre-conditions!
It was heart-warming to engage with the wide range of people who came over to express agreement, take pictures and state their overarching desire to remain one people capable of and dedicated to loving one another. This was true not only on the Kotel plaza but also as we walked the city streets and strolled through Gan Sacher.
It was a morning that renewed our hope.
There are time periods where it is easy to feel overwhelmed with despair. It can be admittedly tough to see how we will emerge from here, how we will move forward intact and what the coming days will bring.
And yet within those difficult periods we still look to hold onto moments of transcendence. Experiences that uplift and inspire us and remind us of our shared humanity.
This coming Thursday marks Tisha B’Av and we prepare once again to fast, sit on the floor and cry. We will mourn not only the destruction of our holy Temple but also the fact that thousands of years later we are still struggling with the kind of extreme hatred that led to our exile.
Then, just as now, there were real issues of disagreement. And then, just as now, we had trouble looking past those differences in order to compromise and connect in the interest of a greater common good.
But even on Tisha B’Av itself many congregations have the custom to end a morning of reciting lamentations with standing and singing the dirge “אלי ציון ועריה”-“Lament, Zion and her cities” to a somewhat more upbeat tune. The poem implores us to continue to grieve the loss of our Temple until it is rebuilt but its comparison of Zion to a woman having pangs of childbirth is understood to relate to our eventual complete redemption.
And even on Tisha B’Av, when we reach midday, we pick ourselves up from the floor, dust ourselves off and sit on chairs. The mourning is not done, the fast is not yet over and yet the mood shifts ever so slightly as we attempt to rise above our present emotional state and grab onto an eternal vision of hope.
Apparently, we are capable of holding both. We can live with and embrace these tensions.
Even when we disagree, we can treat people with respect and handle our frustrations appropriately.
And even when hope can seem lost, it is indeed possible to still aspire, pray, and responsibly work together toward a brighter future.
נחפשה דרכינו ונחקרה ונשובה עד ה'” (איכה ג:מ)”
“Let us search and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)