Why the Silence?
Like great ocean liners, large organizations like the Reform movement need time to change course (though similar organizations like the United Methodist Church saw early that this would be a disastrous war). I sometimes see The Shalom Center as a feisty tugboat, nudging the great ships toward change. In the meantime I honor the excellent work some groups do on issues like rights for women, gays and immigrants. But how much time do they need to catch up with their own constituents when it comes to the Iraq War? And what would it take to renew prophetic energy at least among the rabbis who claim that mantle?
At the Great March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, I heard Rabbi Joachim Prinz proclaim that silence is a crime. What is breeding silence now? The same old demons: Fear of the wealthy, deference to the powerful and a desire not to alienate "friends," merely to prevent thousands of deaths and maimings--so long as the dead are in someone else's family. Why should this decade be different from any other decade?
When that Jewish antiwar ad appeared in the Times back in 2003, I called my daughter in Chicago to tell her it was there. She and my son, who had been children in the 1970s, had bravely walked in antiwar demonstrations then, and they had signed the new ad. In the midst of our conversation, I burst into unexpected tears. I told my daughter that I felt like apologizing to them for my generation's failure. I had thought that what we did in the late sixties and seventies had made another war like that one, like this coming one, impossible. Yet--here we were.
A few weeks later I got up early to carry out my household garbage for the weekly pickup. Grumpy, muttering, cursing--"Every week, the **** garbage!"
And then it hit me: Just as every week we must carry out the garbage from our homes, so every generation, every decade, we must carry out the social and political garbage from our midst. I thought we had "taken out the garbage" of the Vietnam War once and for all. I thought we had "taken out the garbage" of the imperial, pharaonic presidency once and for all. Not so. Again and again, every decade, every generation--new garbage, new wars, new pharaohs, new denials of human rights, new palls of silence, new clouds of despair--to be taken out.
It is only the grassroots Jews--the great majority of whom have already realized how corrupt and lethal the Iraq War is, who have already carried out that garbage from their own homes--who can carry out the garbage of war, of silence, of despair so as to cleanse anew our institutional houses.