Dealing with Hatred and Bigotry

The recent Holocaust Museum shooting and the focus on White Supremacist James W. von Brunn has brought up a lot of memories for me.  Being Jewish, I’ve dealt with bigotry a few times in my life.  The first time I encountered it was sitting in the hall in school with a friend of mine.  He introduced me to another friend of his.  This guy, knowing that I was Jewish, starting spouting off some very anti-semetic things such as "Hitler should have finished the job" and such.  Now, I’m not usually a violent person, but my friend had to restrain me from decking this guy right in his hate-filled mouth.  My friend apologized and tried to claim that the guy was a nice guy despite his views.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t want to be associated with anyone like that.

My next experiece dealing with hate came from within.  I was sitting in my high school Biology class talking with some classmates.  We were joking around and I make a joke regarding Jehova’s Witnesses.  Someone else in my class turned to me and said "I’m a Jehova’s Witness."  Now, I don’t know if he was serious or what, but his words hit home.  I suddenly realized that I wouldn’t like it if people were making bad jokes as the expense of Jews.  So why was it alright for me to make bad jokes at the expense of someone else’s religion?  (Of course, the answer is that it wasn’t.)

This led me to "discover" that my father was quite bigoted.  I don’t think I quite noticed it before, but he was.  He’d make comments about "modern" (for the time) music being "whites listening to black music when it should be the other way around."  He’d see a black man walking in our general neighborhood and wonder "what’s he doing here?"  That sort of stuff.  He didn’t hate other groups per se.  He just thought less of them because they weren’t like him.  Growing up with that kind of attitude is infectious.  It takes a conscious effort to break the cycle, but after that Biology class remark, I made that effort.  I won’t say that I’m 100% free of my father’s prejudices, but I recognize them whenever they try to bubble up (a rare event nowadays) and actively push them from my mind.

My third experience came during college.  A friend of mine, who worked for the school paper, leaned over to me during class and told me not to get upset.  Apparently, the paper was approached to run an add and they accepted it.  The ad, actually a 27 page insert called "The Revisionist", was from a man named Bradley R. Smith and detailed how the Holocaust never happened.  He seriously claimed that not a single Jew was gassed to death by the Nazis, but instead Jews made up the Holocaust to gain sympathy.  Needless to say, I was enraged.

The paper’s editors tried to justify the printing of the 27 page "ad" by saying that he has a right to free speech and that they were simply presenting both sides of the argument.  My response was that, while he had a right to free speech, they had no responsibility to promote his speech.  Their decision to do so was their own, not born of any Constitutional necessity.  In addition, there are no "two sides" and there is no argument.  The Holocaust happened, the evidence for it is clear and its historical authenticity was proven long ago.  Would the paper, I asked, run an ad claiming that slavery never happened and blacks were always treated nice by every white guy they encountered because it "would be presenting both sides" and it would be giving the ad’s authors "their right to free speech"?

My college’s Hillel chapter ran a counter-campaign and I, and others, wrote letters to the school newspaper lambasting them for giving a voice to this Holocaust Denier.  Some others also wrote letters.  One, outragously, claimed that those who died during the Holocaust would be happy to see that we are arguing over whether it actually happened.

During my college years, I also had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  It had many powerful exhibits like having to walk under the "Work Makes One Free" sign that once marked the enterence to a concentration camp or the room filled with shoes.  When I entered one of the cattle cars used to transport Jews to the camps, my mind tried to picture fitting as many people inside of it as the sign indicated the Nazis stuffed in there.  It just couldn’t grasp how they all fit in.  Of course, I realized, that was because I was thinking of fitting *people* inside.  To the Nazis, they were stuffing in beings that were worse than animals so they didn’t care how atrocious conditions were in the car.  My mind was being limited by my own humanity.  (Thank goodness!)

The most powerful exhibit, however, was surprisingly one meant for children.  It was called Daniel’s Story.  In it, you walk into the life of a little Jewish boy named Daniel just as the Nazis came to power.  His life seems pretty normal as first, but as you progress through his life (by moving from room to room), Nazis intrude into his life.  At first, it is just small things like having to wear a yellow star, but you end up staring at the entrance to a concentration camp.  The exhibit masterfully connected you emotionally to Daniel, so when the tragic ending occurred, it hit me hard.  I’m not one to cry in public, but I was extremely near tears.  Only a odd fluke that I found mildly humorous (a letter by a child hanging on the wall who the same name as me) kept me from breaking down completely.

In addition, I found a renewed reason not to hate others different from myself while in the Holocaust Museum.  One section described how Hitler approached a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  To simplify matters, he basically told them to keep out of his way while he killed the Jews and they would be left alone.  They, however, didn’t think it was right and opposed him.  For their opposition, they were put in concentration camps and killed.  From this I learned that, despite your differences with someone, you should always try to find the good in them.

Unfortunately, I just can’t find any good in James von Brunn or in people like him who turn their hate-filled views into violence.  I hope he survives his injuries only because he deserves to be tried and convicted of murder and locked away for the rest of his life.  My condolences go out to the family of the slain guard and my thanks to out to him and the other guards who kept this tragedy limited to only one life lost.  Had they not reacted as quickly as they did, more innocent lives could have been lost to this madman.  I think an appropriate response to James von Brunn’s hate is information.  Where there is ignorance, hatred thrives.  We should all strive to learn more, whether it be about a group of people who are different than us or about an event in history that we don’t know all the details about.  The more we learn, the more the light of knowledge shines, driving hatred into the ever decreasing shadows.

Ode To Quinoa

Usually, during Passover, your “bread” choices are limited. You have matzoh, matzoh and more matzoh. Leavened bread, rice, couscous, etc are all forbidden. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many rabbinical authorities permit Quinoa. Despite the box calling it a grain, Quinoa is actually a seed. It is related to beets and spinach, not wheat or rice. However, when cooked, it can act very much like a grain (specifically rice). It doesn’t rise though so there are no chametz issues.

[thumb id=731/]Anyway, I decided to try some Quinoa this year. For the second sedar, I made Quinoa pilaf. First I sauteed diced scallions, carrots, red pepper, and celery in olive oil for a few minutes. Then I tossed in the rinsed Quinoa. (It needs to be rinsed to wash off a bitter outside shell.) Finally, I poured in some chicken broth and let the whole thing simmer until the liquid was totally gone. This was a hit at the sedar. Nearly everyone took seconds of the Quinoa. The leftovers (which only existed because I made so much to begin with) were tasty too.

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Next, I tried some Breakfast Quinoa. For this one, I simply boiled the Quinoa in water. Once it was cooked, I added raisins, cinnamon, honey, and a little milk. We ate it like oatmeal. Not bad at all.

Below are some more photos of the Breakfast Quinoa:

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I’m not sure if I’ll make any more Quinoa before Passover ends, but I do have 2 more boxes and would like to try this Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa recipe that I found. Have you ever tried Quinoa? If so, do you have a favorite recipe?

Five Simple Rules For My Sons

I was just reading BuckDaddy‘s 2024 Rules for My Daughter and thought it would be a good idea to compose a set of rules for my sons when they turn 18.  So here goes (in no particular order):

Learn to be self-sufficiant.

Before college, I was reliant on my parents for everything.  My mother did my laundry, cooked my meals, and cleaned the house.  I contributed little to nothing as my mother took the entire burden on herself.  Once I moved off to college, I started cooking and cleaning for myself.  I even did my own laundry.  After college, I moved back in with my parents for a bit.  Looking back, one of my big regrets is that I didn’t do enough to help out around the house.  My mother offered to do my laundry and I accepted the offer.  Pretty soon, I was back to being reliant on them for everything.  (With the exception that this time I had a job and my own car.)

B and I aren’t going to model our household after my parents’ house.  I’m not going to come home from work, sit down on the couch, and ask when dinner’s going to be ready.  In fact, I’m the one who does most of the cooking.  I honestly enjoy trying new recipes out.  As our boys get older, they will share in the household chores.  It will better prepare them for when they live on their own or with their future girlfriends and/or wives.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

This is something I’m constantly telling NHL now.  He’ll push someone or grab JSL’s neck.  When I stop him, I ask him whether he would like it if someone did that to him.  Of course, he answers that he wouldn’t.  I’ve found in life that you should always treat people the way that you would want to be treated.  Sometimes, it isn’t easy.  People can be rude and cruel at times.  During those times, it is even more important to stay civil and treat those people nicely.  This doesn’t mean that you need to let people walk all over you, but you can be cordial while you hold your ground.

Follow your traditions.

Your heritage is a very important thing.  Because we are Jewish, there are certain traditions that we follow.  We go to temple during Jewish holidays.  We celebrate Chanukah and not Christmas.  And, because I’m more traditional, we keep Kosher in the home.  (We’ll bring in non-Kosher foods, but we eat them using paper dishes and plastic utensils.)  To me, following your religious traditions is very important.  I will leave it to my boys just how much they will follow them.  They might go to Temple every day for morning minyan, might only attend on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, or anywhere in between.  It’s their choice.  About the only thing that would disappoint me would be if they decided to follow another religion’s traditions.  This leads to…

Respect the traditions of others.

Just because you follow your traditions, doesn’t mean you need to put down or make fun of the traditions of others.  In some ways, this falls under "Treat others the way you want to be treated," but I feel it’s important enough to be separate.  Just because your religion is the right path for you, it doesn’t mean that it is the right path for everyone.  You should never force your religious beliefs onto others.  Finally, even if a person’s traditions seem strange to you, don’t make fun of you.  After all, some of your traditions likely seem strange to others.

Strive to leave this world a little better than it was before you.

Like the last rule, this could be grouped under "Treat others the way you want to be treated." It means doing something to help those less fortunate than you.  It means so much more than that, though.  Striving to leave the world a little better means generally acting like a good citizen.  If you have trash, don’t just toss it in the street.  Instead, wait until a garbage can can be used.  If you are done with a shopping cart, don’t just leave it in the middle of the parking lot where it could roll into other cars.  Instead, put it in the cart corral.  Don’t make a mess and just assume that someone else will clean it up for you.

I think if everyone followed those five simple rules, the world would be a better place.

Shackles of Habit

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  Two nights ago, B stayed home with the boys so I could go to Temple.  Usually, I sit with B’s family (aunt, uncle, and grandmother), but when I got there, I couldn’t see whether they were in their usual spot.  It was also so packed that I didn’t even know if there was an open seat by them.  I wound up sitting in the back all by myself.  It wasn’t bad, though, because I had some time to pray and think.

I was thinking about my A Self Divided post when I came upon the following line in my prayer book:

Will You open our prisons
Release from us shackles of habit?

Suddenly, something occurred to me.  My "religious side" (as I put it in my last post) wasn’t clinging to the six hour rule over valid religious arguments, but out of habit.  I have been following that rule for about two decades and changing something that you’ve done for that long, it’s hard to change.

Now, I value change.  I happen to think that it isn’t "flip floping" when a politician changes his position provided he does so based on new information.  I also think that religions need to be able to change as the world changes.  In my opinion, many of the reasons behind certain religious rules no longer apply in today’s world and should be done away with.  Yet, how could I expect my religion to change if I was unwilling to change?  Unfortunately, I (like many people) often find it hard to change.  I cling to old practices far longer than I should.


Case in point: When I was in college, I decided to grow a beard.  It was ugly, didn’t match the rest of my hair for some odd reason, and made me look over 30 years old.  All my friends were candid about how awful it made me look and tried to get me to shave, but I persisted.  Finally, I decided to shave it off.  Good thing, too.  B hates facial hair!

When I first began following the 6 hour rule, I was in Hebrew School.  I was told that it took 6 hours for meat to digest in your stomach and that was the reason for the wait.  However, when I recently looked into reasons for waiting between eating milk and meat, nothing mentioned digestive durations.  So I really shouldn’t hold onto 6 hours simply because "that’s the way I always did it."

This doesn’t mean that I’m about to ditch all of my religious beliefs.  I still believe in many of them.  This particular one, though, had been vexing me for some time.  Deep down, I knew that I should move to waiting 3 hours, but I was afraid to change.  I can’t say that I’m entirely fearless now, but I’m willing to make the change and see how things go.

Habit can be a strong force to overcome.  Are there any things that you do completely out of habit?

A Self Divided

It’s hard, but I’ll admit it.  I’m split in two.  On one hand, I’m a pretty scientific thinker.  I love reading about new scientific advances, am a big fan of using the scientific method, and don’t want Intelligent Design taught in science class.  On the other hand, I’m pretty religious.  I keep Kosher (to some degree), I observe Shabbat (mostly), and I go to Temple (during holidays).  I value both aspects of me, but they can often go to war with each other.

For example, I wait 6 hours from eating meat until I’ll eat dairy.  That means if I eat a hamburger at 7pm, I can’t eat a piece of cake made with butter until 1am.  This wait has resulted in me becoming a near-vegetarian.  When offered the choice between a piece of meat and the possibility of dessert, I go for dessert nearly every time.  Not that I regret this, mind you.  I’m not the biggest meat-lover around.  I’m happy using tofu/soy substitutes instead of meat.   However, it can complicate things sometimes.

Some people think I should tone down this wait time.  Her uncle, who is also religious, only waits 3 hours.  My parents (who aren’t religious, but who attend an Orthodox temple) know many Orthodox people who agree with the 3 hour rule.  So why do I wait 6 hours now?  Mostly because I was brought up that way.  In Hebrew School while growing up, I was told that one shouldn’t mix milk and meat.  In order to prevent meat and milk from being eaten during the same meal, a wait time of 6 hours was initiated.

Apparently, however, there are many different philosophies of how long you need to wait.  In Russia, Jewish communities set the wait time as 6 hours.  In Europe (Germany), the local Jewish communities set the wait time at 3 hours.  It all depended on how their meals were structured during the day.  The Germanic Jews were more likely to eat a meal between Lunch and Dinner and so could wait 3 hours before the next meal hit.  The Russians waited from Lunch until Dinner.

So where does that leave me?  Undecided (much to some people’s annoyance) for many months.  I’ve looked up the reasons behind the wait and found that I agree with some and don’t agree with others.  Even the ones I agree with, however, might be satisfied by a 3 hour wait.

So why not simply change?  If I’m going to be fully honest, it is for two main reasons:  1) I’ve been doing this for almost two decades now so a shift this major is quite a big deal.  2) I’m afraid of the Slippery Slope – that is, I’m afraid that this "minor" change will lead to more changes to (or pressures to change) my religious beliefs that I’m not prepared to make.

My scientific side has analyzed all of the arguments and has come to the conclusion that a 3 hour wait should be fine.  My religious side reads that the actual rule is "greater than 5 hours" and is only willing to yield to a 5 hour 1 minute wait.

So here I am stuck going over the same issue in my mind over and over.  The same arguments for and against.  I’m in a Red Queen’s Race and I can’t figure a way out.

Has anyone else ever experienced a split like this?  (Doesn’t have to be religious/science based.)  How do you come to a decision in a situation like this?

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