Safe Space

I remember playing tag when I was young. Each time I was winded or felt the person who was “it” closing in on me, I would run to the closest object and yell “base!!!” The idea was, that when touching the base, we were impervious to be tagged. It was a forcefield where nothing could get us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had ‘base’ in our world? If there were places that were devoid of political, religious or personal strife and attack? In theory, there are at least three places I can think of that were established for that cause. But, alas, the last standing bastion of freedom and tolerance and acceptance seems to have disappeared, just this week.

The first ‘base’ was the United Nations, established after World War II and given birth to from the League of Nations. This entity was built on the notion of creating common denominators amongst nations and to ensure that no one country could be bullied, mistreated or abused for its religious beliefs or location or political affiliations. Sadly, the UN has proven in the past years that its purpose and its daily process are far apart from each other. It regularly subjects Israel to censures and votes that no other country currently or in the history of nations has been held to.

The second ‘base’ was the Winter and Summer Olympics. A haven for athletes from all countries in all disciplines to compete with sportsmanship and respect and to leave political and religious divide at the gates of the Olympic Village. Sadly, in 1972 in Munich, Germany that safe base was violated with the brutal hostage taking and murder of Israeli athletes. Still today, many Arab countries refuse to compete if they are in a match with Israel. What a pitiful downgrading of a fabulous sporting system.

The last ‘base’ that was still standing until last week was the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Contestants from around the world don gowns and swimsuits representing the inner and outer beauty of the country they represent. However, that last sacred space was desecrated this week when Miss Lebanon took a selfie picture with other contestants, including Miss Israel.

Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.

Miss Lebanon was threatened of being stripped of her crown for this picture by her government. She later said Miss Israel photo-bombed the picture – an accusation Miss Israel denies – proving it was not her wish to take the picture with Miss Israel. Miss Lebanon even said, “From the first day I arrived at the Miss Universe pageant I was very careful not to take any pictures with Miss Israel, who tried repeatedly to take pictures with me,” Sadly, after the tidal wave of criticism in the Arab world towards Miss Lebanon, Miss Egypt behaved the same way towards Miss Israel, even though they were friendly before.

What have we come to? Is there no last place where we can all get along?

In the Torah portion Bo which we read this Shabbat, Pharaoh has his will broken by the last of the ten plaques and drives the Israelites out. We are now a people without a place. We were forced to run for our safety yet, we had no where to go. Couldn’t we just have a ‘base’ to catch our breath and not worry about the Egyptians pursuing behind us or the Amalekites or the Cossacks or the Nazis or Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran? Isn’t there a place where we can all get along in peace and safety?

We have a moral responsibility to make certain places embody their nature of freedom, tolerance and acceptance for all. We should start by demanding that the United Nations, the Olympics and the Miss Universe Pageants be safe spaces free from political and religious divide. If we don’t, I am afraid we will be tagged, we will be “it”, and it will be a matter of time before another people look for their base of refuge.

Shabbat Shalom.

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, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.