Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why One Of Our Rabbis Lack Empathy For Others

I have been pretty miffed about this article since I read it last week on the subway. (I read the Jewish Week on the subway...what of it?)

Rabbi David Schuck pontificates about the shallow efforts of the next generation of social activists. He leads this group of latte laden sophomoric seekers of justice on a trip to DC, a trip that is the basis of his article. His thesis is that kids -- and adults for that matter-- who take part in social action events don't care about the people they are serving because they have no connection to the suffering of those in poverty or the mentally ill. They can't possibly understand what it feels like to be poor or unstable so they clearly have no connection.

While there is some merit to the argument that many upper middle class children (of which many young Jewish people could be considered) have no idea what it is like to live in poverty or be homeless. However, the argument that there is no sincerity in their actions is rude and pompous. In his piece this last week, he wrote:
When we debriefed the kids on this program after their encounter with the homeless in McPherson Square, the tenor of their experience reflected a Hollywood movie script. "The man we spoke with used to play professional football in the NFL," proclaimed one boy. He was one-upped by a girl who declared: "We spoke with a man who had a degree in applied mathematics and then got addicted to crack cocaine." Sigh. How cool: they went to D.C. and met a football star and a crack addict. The narrative that was conspicuously missing was one of shame and embarrassment. At dinner after the debriefing, one of the kids on the trip sweetly approached me and said, "Rabbi, is everything OK? You look so sad." The irony was staggering.
What is the problem here Rabbi?

Now I don't know who's at fault for the short falls of a program you were running, but I do know that the children you are dealing with took the time to speak with homeless people as people and not as statistics. They took the time to listen to the life stories of people they didn't know; they cast aside stereotypes and expectations to listen to another human being. What was to be ashamed of or embarrassed about?

Ben Zoma teaches Who is wise? One who learns from every man, as is written: 'From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.' (Psalms 119:99)

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