2013-09-04 / Editorial

We must protest Russia’s hateful policy of discrimination

RABBI BENJAMIN DAVID
Adath Emanu- El

Earlier this summer, Russia’s lower house of parliament voted 436-0 to ban “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships.” To put this more clearly, it is now illegal in Russia to provide information about the LGBT community to minors, hold gay pride events, or speak in defense of gay rights. In a recent poll, 15 percent of LGBT people in Russia admitted they had been physically assaulted in the past year alone.

We in the Jewish community live each day beneath the sacred and steadfast banner of ‘Never again!” It is more than a slogan; it is a way of life that stems from a pained history of prejudice, beatings, even murder. If we are not related to Holocaust survivors, then we know those who are. If we have not personally experienced antisemitism, then we know those who have. They are our brothers and sisters, our parents and grandparents, our neighbors and friends.

We have arrived at the High Holy Days and are welcoming the new year of 5774. As such, we read, as we do each year, the wracking story of Ammnon of Mayence, the 11th Century German rabbi who was tortured because he refused to renounce his Judaism. He is thought to be the author of the stirring Unetaneh Tokef.

I know that we can feel so very removed from the goings-on in Russia. We can likewise feel so very removed from the brutal history as lived by Rabbi Ammnon, let alone our own grandparents. Yet these stories must compel our own.

I would submit that to sit idly by while the Russian government decrees policies of hatred would be a disservice to our heritage and to our mission as a people.

It is unlikely that the U.S. Olympic team will boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics, as some have urged. It is also unlikely that the Olympics will be taken away from Russia, as some have advocated.

So what can be done?

First, I would encourage clergy, teachers, and synagogue leaders to incorporate this issue into those discussions that take place in religious school classrooms, sermons that take place on the bimah, and bulletin articles in the coming weeks. If the High Holy Days are about recommitting ourselves to a Judaism of compassion, kindness, and inclusion, then we must ask how this issue calls upon us to rejuvenate our commitment to such high ideals. If there is intolerance in the world, how can we ensure that our synagogues are places of abounding tolerance?

Second, I would encourage those in our immediate area to lobby elected officials. Each one of us has a voice that is holy and wholly sacred. Together our voice is quite strong. The Jewish community has helped shape public policy in ways that are profound, from contributing to the civil rights movement to helping attain marriage equality in multiple states. We must let it be known that those policies that exist in Russia today are not acceptable to us and that diplomatic relations with a nation that holds such policies is not acceptable to us.

In all of these ways, our Judaism becomes a religion not of the theoretical, but more a vehicle with which to pick up where our ancestors left off and, with that, enact greater peace, greater understanding, and a greater sense of good in our world. .

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