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David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness
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Room for two, please

Can't celebrities and elected officials support more than one cause at a time? There's room on our lapels and in our hearts for more
Getty Images
Getty Images

The State of the Union is more than a temperature-taking of how our nation is faring. It has devolved into a partisan display of virtue on our literal sleeves.

This year, a significant group of female elected officials donned white dresses and pant suits in support of women’s reproductive rights. I was heartened to see many elected leaders with masking tape across their lapel and the number “150” written, to signify the tally of days Jewish hostages have been held against their will by Hamas. One congressperson draped themselves in a Ukrainian flag to signify the need to send critical aid to the floundering nation in its war against Russia.

Others held auction paddles that were waved to and fro, demanding an immediate cease fire in Gaza and cessation of arms and financial support to Israel. For the president, it was his annual seminal speech. For Congress, it was their moment to gesture to the American people what matters most to them.

Just a few days later, celebrities walked the red carpet with all the glitz, glamor, pomp and flash that goes with the Oscar awards. The outfits and “what people are wearing” is as much the buzz as who would go home with the coveted trophy.

This year though, there was more talk about which pins people wore than the designers who fashioned their outfits. A very few proudly wore yellow ribbons in honor of the Jewish hostages in Gaza. About six to eight well known figures including Billie Eilish, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef and others wore red-hand pins that signify a demand for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, (with no demand for release of hostages or cessation of rockets or other hostilities).

I do not want to address the hypocrisy of the demand nor the misappropriated use of the red-hand pin that rose to recognition after the bloody and brutal murder of Jews in Israel by radical fundamentalists.

What I do want to address is why elected officials and A-list celebrities think that their outfits only have room for one pin, or one strip of tape? Why can they only stand for one thing at a time? There is room for much more.

I am fortunate to live in a district with a hardworking, problem-solving congressman. He is not in the news often because he doesn’t make inflammatory statements or invoke outlandish conspiracy theories. He keeps his nose to the legislative grindstone and earns results for his constituents and our shared future. He has worked on a myriad of issues that have a wide effect and broad range. So, when he gets a few seconds of airtime at the State of the Union, why do we think he should only wear ONE item on his jacket lapel. I know he stands for multiple issues and has worked hard for countless initiatives. Why do we have to boil it down to just one virtue to promote?

My congressman wants every hostage released immediately without preconditions. He also advocates for humanitarian aid to make its way to the region. Those are not mutually exclusive.

He unequivocally has stated that Israel has the right, duty and obligation to defend itself against evil regimes that seek its harm. He also believes that Israel has a sacred responsibility to preserve innocent life. Those are not mutually exclusive.

Yet, when the cameras are trained on him and his colleagues during the State of the Union they notice the one button on their lapel. There is no second badge, pin or brooch. Why not? It surely is not an issue of space.

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For celebrities at the Oscars who signaled their virtues with red pins, why could they not also advocate for the release of hostages? Why could they not wear, at the very least, the yellow ribbon with the misplaced red pin? Demanding a ceasefire and a release to all hostages do not cancel each other out, (though this author disagrees with an unconditional ceasefire at this time).

I recently did an exercise in my congregation. I asked everyone who has been married to their partner for more than 20 years to raise their hands if they love their spouse more now than they did when they were first together.

Almost every hand went up. Mine did too.

I then asked the same audience, if the one person who can push their buttons the most, drive them most nuts and frustrate them more than any other is that same spouse. With a few giggles, most raised their hands again. I did, as well.

I tweaked the same exercise for teens. I asked if they love their parents – which all did. I then asked if they have ever hated their parents. The same hands raised again.

These scenarios are not hard for us to comprehend if we have been fortunate to love our partners, grow with them and get frustrated by them. So, too, if blessed with parents; it is not hard to fathom our love and respect and at times, especially when younger, our annoyance by our parents and their decisions. We can hold both truths easily, at once.

On paper, they seem incongruent, incompatible, and impossible to share the same oxygen. Yet, we hold these disparate truths together in our lived lives, with ease and comfort.

Love carries complexity. While seemingly at odds with one another, love and its frustrations live harmoniously. Our country is multifaceted. Those we select to lead it, have wide ranging responsibilities. To ask them to stand for just one cause is a dereliction of duty. They can advocate for many issues, and they do not need to be at odds with one another.

Society has created a false and dangerous paradigm where to stand for one thing makes people believe we are passionately against the other. Being a Yankees fan does not make us root against the Mets. Loathing Donald Trump does not mean we adore Joe Biden. Wearing one pin on our shoulder should not exclude our belief and desire to stand for other ideals.

We need to champion multiple truths and shared values. We do that by being brave enough to wear two pins at once. They do not compete with one another and we have room on our sleeves for more than one button.

When we do, we will demonstrate by example the complexity and harmony that is our world today.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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