January 2020: From TBS President Josh Weissman
No Religion is an Island is a responsive reading, adapted from a work by Abraham Joshua Heschel, which the Rabbi periodically includes in a Friday night service. In the last year and a half, it seems to me that he has deemed its reading to not only be relevant, but poignant as well, with increasing frequency. Rabbi Scolnic has stated in countless sermons that he does not believe in coincidences. His invoking and reading of this poem is never coincidental. Like every sermon he delivers, he uses this reading to send an important message and commentary on the political and social landscape.
This reading was written to encourage and promote civility and tolerance of differences. This message is present in passages throughout. At various points, we are reminded that, “There can be disagreement without disrespect” and to “Let mutual concern replace remnants of mutual contempt”.
Sadly, our country and leaders seem to have brought us to a time when civility and tolerance have eroded. To those leading our country, it is now apparently more important to discredit anything said or done by the other party, than it is to do the right thing. Moderate, level-headed thinking and collaborative governing has given way to a Federal government being run (or not) by the extreme flanks of each party. Those who used to be considered far left and far right are now centrists. Societally, those who had been on the fringes and in the background are now front and center, dominating the mainstream. Acts and messages of exclusion, racism and anti-Semitism now, by not being discouraged, seem to feel almost encouraged by the rhetoric. From the violent acts at, and threats made against synagogues across the country, to the recent anti-Semitic shooting in Jersey City.
Heschel later asks, “Should we hope for each other’s failure? Or should we pray for each other’s welfare?” In this day, those at the top levels of government, on both sides, only seem to be able to hope for the failure of others, and this mindset has permeated throughout the country. We can do better and we must do better. It is time to put blinders aside and move beyond our current culture of extremes and absolutism.