Howard Goldsmith
Howard Goldsmith
Dad, Husband, Rabbi, Outdoorsman, Skier, Cook, Dreamer

No one wants to be tolerated

No one wants to be tolerated.

No one wants to be grudgingly given a membership to the club or a house in the neighborhood or a seat in the restaurant or a bid to the fraternity. No one wants people to look at them and think, “Oh, a Jew! We need one of those.” One. And only to check the box to show how tolerant we really are.

No one wants to be tolerated.

The winter music concert at the kids’ school. Everyone wants Jingle Bells and Silent Night and we need to make sure to include Dreidel Dreidel to show how tolerant we are. Quick, throw up the menorah next to the tree in the town hall because we’re a town that makes space for all kinds of people, we have black ones and brown ones and yellow ones and Jewish ones — we tolerate everyone!

No one wants to be tolerated.

On the playground as a child, picked last for kickball. I couldn’t be left out – that’s against the school’s tolerance policy – even the chubby, uncoordinated kids had to be allowed to play. So, they tolerated me so that they could play their games even though I ducked when the ball flew to me and missed when it was my time to kick. But I was tolerated.

No one wants to be tolerated.

Tolerance lays bare the hierarchy and divisions in our society in profound ways. If anyone moves out of their lane, out of their box and into another, the group tolerates them. Perhaps they need a bit of lactaid to allow for the tolerance, or simply to smile extra wide and speak with a bit more sing-song or slowly so that the brown-skinned person — born in Cleveland — can understand. When we tolerate, we put all of our assumptions and biases and prejudices onto the person in question and then feel magnanimous and righteous for allowing them into our presence, into our group, into our conversation, our space. When we know, in fact, nothing about them except some pigment in their skin, some assumption about their background, some guess from their accent.

No one wants to be tolerated.

The Shoah was born out of tolerance. For two thousand years, the people of Europe tolerated the Jews to greater and lesser extents. Golden ages and expulsions but usually with a place to land. The tolerance often felt good as my grandfather’s memoirs lay out his very German childhood waving flags during World War I and butterkuchen and gymnasia and the bit of antisemitism that could be tolerated because we were tolerated. Tolerated — one step short of rejection, two steps short of discrimination, three steps short of abuse, some too few number of steps short of Shoah. Annihilation born of tolerance.

No one wants to be tolerated.

We want to be… seen. We want to be… heard. We want to be welcomed for who we are. We want to be judged by how we live and give based on what we have. What do we do with what we have, with the luck of our birth, with the blessings and challenges in our paths? How do we contribute to the world and love our spouses and honor our parents and hug our kids? When you judge us, look at how we treat people around us. Respectfully? With an open mind? With an open heart? Or do we merely tolerate the other – spooked by the lane change but with a brave face.

No one wants to be tolerated.

No one wants to be. For to tolerate is to make every negative assumption about people and allow them in your presence anyway. Tolerance is for milk and gluten, not for human beings created b’tzelem Elohim. The stories of the Shoah, the stories of my grandparents, these are stories of tolerance taking a step back and then another and another to utter despair. The answers to our prayers, to our pleas to understand the flames of Shoah begin within the human heart. So easy to move to callousness and then the half step to evil. Or, with little more effort, the other way, a heart moving in the direction of openness and compassion and love. Shared humanity is what moves us from tolerance to interest to acquaintance to friendship and to community. Birth, death, hopes, dreams, food, music, dance, celebration, mourning, quiet, love — the essences of universally human being.

No one wants to be tolerated.

Let us pledge to stop tolerating. Let us learn to name it when we do it and then, instead of tolerating, to open our hearts and our ears. Let us see humans being human beings. Let us revel in our shared humanity that no change in skin pigment or country of origin or education level or immigration status or religious view or accent can change. And as we bath in that shared humanity, we will see the values of Torah all about us, the values held dear by those who perished in the Shoah, the values we strive to teach our children, the values that animate us and that tell us so clearly that each person is made in the image of God — each person not to be tolerated but treated as divine.

About the Author
Rabbi Howard Goldsmith is the spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester, a Reform synagogue in Rye, New York. He is the President of the Westchester Board of Rabbis and a chaplain for the Westchester County Police Department.
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