The Staggering, Heartless Cruelty Toward the Elderly

From The Atlantic:

A global pandemic doesn’t give us cause to treat the aged callously.

March 12, 2020

Crises can elicit compassion, but they can also evoke callousness. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve witnessed communities coming together (even as they have sometimes been physically forced apart), and we’ve seen individuals engaging in simple acts of kindness to remind the sick and quarantined that they are not forgotten. Yet from some quarters, we’ve also seen a degree of cruelty that is truly staggering.

Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook about an experience he’d just had on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: “I heard a guy who looked to be in his 20s say that it’s not a big deal cause the elderly are gonna die anyway. Then he and his friend laughed … Maybe I’m lucky that I had awesome grandparents and maybe this guy didn’t but what is wrong with people???” Some have tried to dress up their heartlessness as generational retribution. As someone tweeted at me earlier today, “To be perfectly honest, and this is awful, but to the young, watching as the elderly over and over and over choose their own interests ahead of Climate policy kind of feels like they’re wishing us to a death they won’t have to experience. It’s a sad bit of fair play.”

Notice how the all-too-familiar rhetoric of dehumanization works: “The elderly” are bunched together as a faceless mass, all of them considered culprits and thus effectively deserving of the suffering the pandemic will inflict upon them. Lost entirely is the fact that the elderly are individual human beings, each with a distinctive face and voice, each with hopes and dreams, memories and regrets, friendships and marriages, loves lost and loves sustained. But they deserve to die—and as for us, we can just go about our business.

It is bad enough if we remain indifferent to the plight of our elders; it is far worse to dress up our failings as moral indignation.

As a rabbi and theologian watching this ethical train wreck, I find myself thinking about the biblical mandate to “honor your father and mother.” The Hebrew word usually translated as “honor,” kabed, comes from a root meaning “weight.” At the deepest level, then, the biblical command is thus to treat the elderly as weighty. Conversely, the Bible prohibits “cursing” one’s parents. The Hebrew word usually translated as “curse,” tekalel, derives from a root meaning “light.” At bottom, then, the biblical proscription is on treating the elderly lightly, as if they are inconsequential.

Why do I say “the elderly”? In its biblical context, the obligation to honor parents is a command given to grown children (as are the Ten Commandments more broadly—you don’t tell children not to commit adultery nor to covet their neighbors’ fields). When you are an adult, the Bible instructs, you must not abandon the elderly. Giving voice to a pervasive human fear, the Psalmist prays, “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me!”

What does it say about our society that people think of the elderly so dismissively—and moreover, that they feel no shame about expressing such thoughts publicly? I find myself wondering whether this colossal moral failure is exacerbated by the most troubled parts of our cultural and economic life. When people are measured and valued by their economic productivity, it is easy to treat people whose most economically productive days have passed as, well, worthless.

From a religious perspective, if there is one thing we ought to teach our children, it is that our worth as human beings does not depend on or derive from what we do or accomplish or produce; we are, each of us, infinitely valuable just because we are created in the image of God. We mattered before we were old enough to be economically productive, and we will go on mattering even after we cease to be economically productive.

Varied ethical and religious traditions find their own ways to affirm an elemental truth of human life: The elderly deserve our respect and, when necessary, our protection. The mark of a decent society is that it resists the temptation to spurn the defenseless. It is almost a truism that the moral fabric of a society is best measured by how it treats the vulnerable in its midst—and yet it is a lesson we never seem to tire of forgetting. “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old,” the Bible says—look out for them and, in the process, become more human yourself.

Shai Held is the president, dean, and chair in Jewish Thought at Hadar, where he also directs the Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas.

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Fear in the Time of Pandemic

The whole world Is a very narrow bridge
and the main thing is to have no fear at all
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)


I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.
(Bene Gesserit Litany against fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune)

Fear leads to panic when staying calm and sheltering in place is important for our survival.

Overcoming fear and panic is important because fear and panic leads to bad choices and a sense of hopelessness.

These are lessons I have learned from a hard life.  Heroes are the ones who go on and do what they have to do even when they are afraid.

I know from experience that there have been events in my life which I would not have survived if I had given into fear and panic.

Be careful who you listen to.  There are those who will use this crisis to push their agendas of hatred and fear of those who are different.  Be careful of your information sources.

Publications such as The New York Times, and other nationally and internationally recognized as reliable sources of information are your best bets for information you can trust.

Music, books, crafting, even cooking of your hastily purchased survival rations can be a way of coping.  Last week we watched Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a most excellent film that should have swept the Academy Awards.

Everything is on hold.  We can view this as “lost time” that will need to be made up or we can look upon this as a space between an old and destructive way of living, a space where we have the time to contemplate changes we can make to a new and less destructive way of living.


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Barbara Harris, First Woman Ordained an Episcopal Bishop, Dies at 89

From The New York Times:

Her groundbreaking election angered many conservatives. She even received death threats.

By Emily Brennan
March 17, 2020

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, who was the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States — indeed, in its parent body, the worldwide Anglican Communion — an election that caused a furor among conservatives, died on Friday in Lincoln, Mass., outside Boston. She was 89.

Her death, at a hospice, was confirmed in a statement by the bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates. He did not give a cause.

Ms. Harris served as suffragan, or assistant, bishop of the Massachusetts diocese from 1989 until her retirement in 2002, and in some ways she was an unlikely candidate for the role. She had neither a bachelor’s nor a seminary degree, and she was divorced — a profile that some critics said made her unfit for election, regardless of gender. Others feared that she was too progressive for the church.

An African-American, she went on to challenge the Episcopal hierarchy to open its doors wider to women as well as to black and gay people.

Her election in 1988 caused turmoil both in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, an international family of 46 autonomous churches that includes the Church of England.

Some Episcopalians, objecting to her political views and theological stances, declared that they would not recognize her position and campaigned against her.

She even faced death threats. For her consecration as bishop, on Feb. 11, 1989, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the Boston police offered her a bulletproof vest to wear. Ms. Harris declined.

Years later, in a 2002 interview with the National Visionary Leadership Project, she shrugged off the furor. “Nobody can hate like Christians,” she said.

She often criticized the church as being too dogmatic — as worrying over the particulars of canon law instead of preaching inclusivity, a truer reflection of Christ’s teachings, she believed.

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The Gay Rights Movement Has an Anti-Semitism Problem

Last year I started the process of conversion to Reform Judaism.  My reading had led me to a form of spirituality that embraced ethical practices and beliefs that I considered bedrock lifetime values.  Embracing Judaism and wearing a Magen David pendant have heightened my awareness of antisemitism.

I’m a senior citizen, married to my partner of nearly 20 years.  I was a 1960s folkie and hippie, anti-war activist.  A pioneer trans-activist, part of the Second Wave Feminist Movement and the Lesbian Feminist Movement.

I honestly don’t recognize the movements of today.  People who were major figures are forgotten while others we barely recognized back in the day are lionized because they fit a particular political paradigm.

LGBT is being turned in to an arm of Revolutionary Politics when the first 50 or sixty years were mainly about attaining basic civil rights.  Including being able to teach, hold civil service job and serve in the military.  I went to my first marriage equality rally back in 1970.  Troy Perry was establishing MCC in those days.  I met women studying to become the first female Rabbis.

I feel the movement is being taken away from LGBT people and repurposed by the post-modern left wing version of the Tea Party with all their “anti- settler-colonialist” babble which make less and less sense the more you examine it.

I’m on Anat Hoffman’s Israel Religious Action Center’s mailing list and I am aware of Israel’s flaws. Nonetheless Israel is far freer and is a bar better place for women and LGBT people than any of the Islamic states it shares proximity with.

From The Jewish Journal:

By Blake Flayton
Feb 26, 2020

My identity as a Jew and my identity as a gay man are inseparable. Contrary to traditional beliefs regarding religion and sexuality, I believe these two parts of myself enhance each other rather than compromise each other. The LGBTQ Jewish community carries a long history of excellence. We are writers, activists, artists, politicians, academics and teachers. The convergence of identity and the greatness that has been born from this community are special to me. From Rabbi Sandra Lawson to Troye Sivan to Efrat Tilma, queer, Jewish expression seems to be stronger than ever.

Yet, despite this representation, blatant anti-Semitism currently wreaks havoc in the LGBTQ community.

The first time I heard the word “pinkwashing” was when I mentioned to a friend that I was interested in attending the Tel Aviv Pride Parade last summer. My friend supported me but warned me against posting any photos of the parade online, as I would be accused of pinkwashing. I asked her what she meant. “Pinkwashing?” she said. “When Zionists pretend that Israel is the pinnacle of human rights because of how they treat gays? To distract from the way they treat Palestinians?”

This was the first time I heard this term, but it certainly was not the last.

The “anti-pinkwashing” movement is gaining traction in the gay community. My friend was correct in her description: Its mission is to end government-sponsored exploitation of gay constituents so as not to distract from inexcusable corruption or wrongdoing. On paper, the movement seeks to separate nationalism from queer liberation and to honor the voices of queer, oppressed people worldwide. But in reality, the movement tethers the identities of gay Israelis to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and undermines their autonomy simply because they are citizens of the Jewish state. To the devout gay rights activist, any display of Jewish gay pride is now conditional; it must totally and officially distance itself from the Jewish state to be valid.

Consider the controversy surrounding the 2019 D.C. Dyke March. This event was a unique opportunity for the queer women of Washington to display their solidarity with one another, but under one condition: Jewish queer women could not display any “nationalist iconography,” meaning the Star of David, if it resembled an Israeli flag. At a similar event in Chicago, Jewish women carrying rainbow Star of David flags were forced to leave. In New York, Israelis participating in a gay pride parade were surrounded by protesters shouting, “No pride in apartheid!”

Imagine if you were an American marching in a European pride parade and suddenly you were isolated from the crowd and intimidated with chants of “Screw Donald Trump!” simply because of your nationality. That, of course, wouldn’t happen. The queer liberation movement does not hold a queer person responsible for the actions of their government — unless of course, they are Israeli.

To make matters worse, more and more LGBTQ organizations are openly supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolutions. How can this movement, which emphasizes the rights and dignity of all people, support BDS, an initiative that constantly discriminates against both Israeli and Diaspora Jews in academic, artistic and political spaces?

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