Tuesday, September 6, 2016

For Elul

courtesy of epipha.com

Our pool in Shilo is segregated. There are separate, but equal, hours for males and for females. These divisions were made out of respect to the Torah laws of modesty and there’s no separation according to race. Those from Ethiopian and Yemenite heritage splash alongside tow-heads from northern European cultures. In between there are swimmers of all shades of  brown, red, and yellow skin.

Recently, while watching the children swim together I remembered a sad incident from my childhood. If my memory is correct I was a pre-teen when The Crystal Plunge in Oklahoma, the public swimming pool where my cousins swam, was closed for the entire summer.
Its closure wasn’t due to technical difficulties. Nor was it because of a budget deficiency or water shortage. Rather , it was closed because the United States Supreme Court had ordered all public swimming pools integrated. The city’s answer was to deprive everyone of a chance to swim in the town’s only public pool. It proved to be a very hot summer. Apparently by the following year the powers-that-be  at last understood that skin color was not contagious in water. They reopened the pool and blacks and whites swam together.

In the next twenty years or so that I lived in America I saw tremendous strides being made in civil rights. In 1967 Thurgood Marshall became the first Afro-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Two years later the first black mayor since the Reconstruction Era was elected mayor of a southern city, Fayette, Mississippi. In 1973 Georgia sent a black man, Andrew Young, to the House of Representatives in Washington and the following year Georgia’s capital and largest city voted in an Afro-American mayor, Maynard Jackson. And so it continued until eight years ago when Barak Obama became the first black president of the United States.

When I left America in 1986 I thought that all the civil rights causes my mother and countless others had marched for had been achieved. Since I rarely focus on international news I held onto that opinion. This year, though, the headlines from Ferguson, Dallas, and Cleveland managed to penetrate my consciousness. What happened to all the big strides that had been made? Why aren’t people color blind enough to get along?

While pondering my question I focus on the Shilo girls frolicking in the water. A whole spectrum of colors, they share each other’s rafts, jump into the water hand-in-hand, and dive together for coins. I see mothers watching each other’s children in the kiddie pool, rub suntan lotion on each other, and share snacks. Color doesn’t seem to matter in the Shilo pool.

As idyllic as it appears I know it’s a mirage. Even with the tranquility of the water there are those who fight over their place in the concession line. Mothers who yell at children. Girls who scream at each other for some little slight. And away from the pool it just grows worse.

Once out of Shilo the arguments escalate. Most of the disagreements are not about color but that doesn’t make them any less harmful. If we, as Jews, can’t get along how can we expect anything else from the rest of the world to do so? We’re now in the month of Elul, the month of introspection leading up to Rosh HaShana, the day of judgement, followed by the ten days of awe before Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Now is the time for fixing ourselves. Now is the time to begin judging others fairly, to give the benefit of the doubt, and to stop quarreling. If we, as the Chosen People and a light unto the nations, can begin to get along then just perhaps the rest of the world will follow our lead. It can’t hurt to give it a try. It might even help, it might help big time.

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