Monday, March 5, 2012

Supporting Human Dignity

I have chosen not to write about political issues in this blog previously, but unfortunately fundamental issues of dignity and human rights have become politicized.  One of my themes has been Jewish identity and that is inextricably interwoven with a belief in human dignity.  Yesterday I spent the afternoon with 700 people from the Jewish community organizing to defeat the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota.  The marriage amendment would change the constitution to only recognize marriage as a union between a man and a woman.   Fifteen synagogues and institutions and thirty-five rabbis came together in opposition to the amendment. 
I especially liked the fact that they arrived at this agreement based on two sections of Jewish text.  One is known as the Kavod HaBriyot and speaks to the belief that human beings are created in the image of God and must be treated with dignity and respect. The second was a passage from Leviticus 19:16 that states “do not stand idly by as your neighbor bleeds.”   While I have always shared those values, I lacked the vocabulary to explain why in religious terms. 

We were asked to think about our own story and how that led us to be there that day and at first I had a difficult time articulating it beyond it being the right thing to do.  I began to play the child’s game of “Why” with myself.  You know, the one where you keep asking “why”.   Why do I bristle at intrusions on human rights?  Because it feels like a personal violation.  Why does it feel like a personal violation?  Because what affects another also affects me.  And why is that?  And here I have my ah-ha moment.  Growing up Jewish reinforced a sense of otherness.  It is often that very otherness that reinforces the importance of protecting human rights and respecting differences.   I am well aware from history that it is a slippery slope and a failure to protect someone else’s rights will quickly lead to an incursion on my own.  Every Jew is conscious of this.  We are all in this together.

I was heartened to look at this room filled with people who shared a belief in human dignity and to claim them as my own.

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