There are times that I take great pride in the influence that Jewish culture has had on society. From the significant to the trivial, it is hard to find an aspect of life that does not bear some imprint of Judaism or Jews.
But there are times I resent the unwillingness of the world to allow us our uniqueness. At this time of year, I am particularly sensitive to the appropriation of terms and imagery of the Holocaust.
I am not in the business of comparing suffering. Sometimes I am challenged by people who have been victimized by slavery, oppression, racism or disaster. They almost dare me to claim that the Jews of today have it “worse” than the survivors of other human tragedies. I am sympathetic to those who have been on the receiving end of injustice, but I refuse to compare wounds. Every person’s pain is unique.
However, I do not extend my sympathy to the rhetoric that seeks to exploit our unique pain for other purposes. Not every instance of human suffering is “another Holocaust.” In fact, not any instance is another Holocaust. To divorce the victims from their torment is to rob them of their remaining dignity. To exploit their oppression for the politics of the moment is to minimize crimes that targeted Jews as Jews.
The slaves of the American south, the corpses of the killing fields of Cambodia, the Armenian and Tutsi victims of genocidal rages deserve their rightful attention. The epidemic of abortion in our country should be of concern on its own terms. But during these upcoming Days of Remembrance, our hearts should be turned not toward generic hatred and savagery, but to the unique circumstances that allowed Nazis and their sympathizers to murder Jews.
It is only in the specific lessons of these tragedies that we can identify the warning signs that will prevent other unique human beings from being reduced to generic victims.
And now for something completely different.
My office at the synagogue is a private domain. When I am in it and the door is open, you are invited in. However, when I am not in the office, or when the door is closed, I must insist that you stay out. Please do not, under any circumstances, leave notes or packages in my office without my specific permission.
This request is actually posted next to the door of my office (on a red stop sign with big letters saying “please note”), but is regularly ignored.
The purpose of this rule is for confidentiality and security. I am often entrusted with information (and sometimes objects) that are very private – documents, personal statements, even discovered contraband. Some day, it may pertain to you. And certainly in these times of security concerns, an uninvited package of any kind can be cause for suspicion. My office should be locked when I am not around, but even if it is not, if I am not there, please stay out.
And what applies to the Rabbi’s Study applies as well to the other professional staff offices. Thank you for your cooperation.