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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

TWO REFLECTIONS

ON DEATHS AT SEA


You could not be blamed if last week the only disaster at sea you heard about was the Titanic tourist submersible. It was, indeed, a tragedy for the five people whose lives were lost and for their loved ones. Yet at around the same time another sea-borne catastrophe was taking place, this one a shipwreck that took the lives of hundreds of Libyan refugees. The disparities in world attention – and in the resources summoned to aid each set of victims – offered a stark reminder of how some lives matter more than others.


Certainly, as one online commenter speaking for the masses put it, the Titanic sub led the news because “it [was] extraordinary … weird, and … associated with a 100+ year old event that has long been part of pop culture.” That may be true but it does not make it right.


And it certainly does not explain the imbalance of resources committed to five adventurers while hundreds of desperate refugees, including many children, were swept away to their deaths.


There’s a lot more that can be said about this, but for now I prefer to hone in on the humanistic meta-lesson. Every well-meaning religion and philosophy of life teaches us to do better by those who have the least in this world. Every day our potential for righteousness is tested by whether or not we do so. The contrast in our global responses to last week’s tragedies are yet another sad reminder that we are failing that test.


 

INDEPENDENCE DAY


Next Tuesday our nation celebrates 247 years of independence. In Jewish culture celebration is also an opportunity for self-reflection.


For many years on July 4 I’ve observed a small personal ritual of listening to the NPR reading of the Declaration of Independence. I highly recommend re-visiting it each year. It is both inspiring and embarrassing. Its sweeping recognition of universal equality and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness brush up against racist depictions of “merciless Indian Savages” and the reality of slavery at the time of its adoption. Still, it deserves its renown as a promise of America’s potential. America has always been about its potential.


I found myself thinking about that potential when I recently learned that Amanda Gorman’s book, “The Hill We Climb,” was barred from younger children in some Miami schools after complaints from a parent who cited “hate messages” and “CRT” in the work.


This short book, which sits on my office coffee table, is the text of the poem that Ms. Gorman composed for the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Her words call upon us to seek both unity and justice, to reckon with our nation’s past even as we look with optimism toward its future. Her conclusion envisions a bright possible future:


We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west.

We will rise from the windswept northeast,

where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities

of the midwestern states.

We will rise from the sunbaked south.

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and

every corner called our country,

our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,

battered and beautiful.

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it.

If only we're brave enough to be it.


Such a nation would well merit being called “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”


Happy Fourth!

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