Then came September 11, 2001. The panic and pride, fear and determination of that time, the flags flying everywhere, coincided with the High Holidays. The rabbi took the occasion to warn against striking back too forcefully, or maybe just striking back. As if we Jews had learned nothing from our long years of passivity in Europe, with its all too predictable result.
This time I did not just sit there. As it happened, hurrying to services from the newspaper, I'd stopped in the composing room to check the page proof one more time. On the way, I'd passed through the advertising department, where every cubicle had been decorated with a small American flag. One must have fallen, for I spied it on the floor. I quickly picked it up and, without thinking, stuck it in my breast pocket. I remembered it when the rabbi began to warn us against, yes, "flag-waving."
That did it. I remembered the little flag I had with me. There are no coincidences. I'd been entrusted with this flag for a purpose. I drew it out, held it high, and slowly began waving it back and forth. The rabbi continued his prepared sermon as long as he could, but even he finally took notice. My hesitation about making a scene had completely disappeared. I could have waved Old Glory forever that night.
Should I have walked out, turned my back on my congregation, my rabbi and, despite Hillel's injunction in the Talmud, separated myself from the community?
I don't think so. For one thing, my rabbi doesn't just give political sermons. He presides over a spiritual cafeteria, meeting the needs of all his congregants, conducting everything from little study groups to High Holiday services, tending to the poor and sick, the hungry physically as well as spiritually. The man is indefatigable. He's not only a good rabbi but a good man. He'd do anything for you. Am I supposed to disown him because we disagree, even deeply? Aren't we supposed to practice tolerance, mutual respect and even remember that we are all one?
If my rabbi can tolerate me, which can't be easy, surely I can tolerate him. Yes, I can identify with Barack Obama - and the choice he made.