As a parent I have to teach my children they do not always get their way. It’s not only important. It’s hard.


Our culture reinforces the idea that with enough money or looks or connections, we can get anything we want. Life experience proves otherwise.

None of us get our way all the time. We have to accept the views of others and learn to live and work with them constructively.

The leaders of the American Jewish community need a reminder of this lesson. A recent incident proves why.

What Happened on Wednesday? 

The most influential organization in the American Jewish community is the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. It consists of the heads of large Jewish groups. In other words, it is an organization composed entirely of other organizations. On Wednesday it rejected the application of a liberal Jewish group known as J Street for membership.

Reactions have been swift and childish. J Street has decried the influence and make-up of the Conference of Presidents. The leader of my own Reform Jewish movement has threatened to leave the Conference. The Conference itself has said nothing.

No One Has a Monopoly on the Truth

I am angry with everyone. The Conference should not have a litmus test. The head of J Street should not lash out publicly at his colleagues. And the Reform movement should not threaten to leave simply because it did not get its way.

All of us need a reminder of the extraordinary importance of civility. Without out we will wither away as a people. Without out we will fail to pass on our faith to the next generation. And without it we will fail to live up to God’s message of human dignity. Here’s why:

1. No Civility=No Survival: The Jewish sages taught that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of “baseless hatred” among the Jewish people. Neighbors insulted one another and lacked the acceptance of difference that makes co-existence possible.

We are engaging in this behavior today, and as poet George Santayana put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2. No Civility=No Judaism: One of the more puzzling incidents in the Bible concerns a fight between Moses and his cousin Korach. Korach and a group of his supporters accuse Moses of becoming a dictator. (Numbers 16)

In truth, however, as later commentators make clear, Korach was simply jealous of Moses’ korachinfluence. He felt belittled when Moses appointed others to leadership roles and did not give Korach the power he wanted. Thus, Korach insulted and sought to embarrass Moses before all the people. Moses responded by seeking God’s help, and God destroyed Korach and his followers.

The lesson is not that we must never challenge or question another’s decision. Judaism cherishes difference. Rather, we must not turn legitimate difference into personal divisiveness. We do not leave the sandbox because we do not get our way. 

3. No Civility=No Dignity: Among the most cherished verses of the Bible is the affirmation in Genesis 1:26 that every human is created in the image of God. We are created with an inherent dignity. We are children of the Holy One.

When we lack civility, we tend to overlook that dignity and begin to categorize people based simply on labels. We fail to engage, to empathize, to listen. We do not need to be religious in order to realize this truth. We simply need to be human.

If we are to survive with dignity, those of us with deep faith and convictions need to remind ourselves of this truth. God does not caricature. God does not demonize. God speaks in the still, small voice of hope and understanding.

Rabbi Evan

I show the way Jewish wisdom make our lives richer and happier. In particular, I help Jews appreciate their heritage and Christians uncover the Jewish roots of their faith. Get my FREE Jewish holidays cheat sheet by clicking here.

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