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Op-eds

Community in danger of becoming outrage addicts

  • Howard Feldman 2018
We do love our moral outrage, don’t we? Nothing gets us quite as warm and fuzzy as good ‘ole fashioned, “how dare they!” does.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Sep 20, 2018

It unites fighting sisters, bridges generation gaps, and gets us talking to the aunt we have avoided since Mendy’s Barmitzvah. Encoded somewhere in our Jewish DNA is the understanding that if we are able to shake our collective heads together in communal disgust, then things can’t really be that bad, can they?

High up on the scale of shock, horror, and indignation is a personal affront by the community rabbi. Higher still is an insult by a politician who is perceived to treat the Jewish community differently to the way another community is treated.

An ideal sentence would be something like; “Can you imagine what would happen if he treated the Buddhist, Scientologists, or Mormons that way? There would hell to pay! That’s for sure. Hell! For sure! I promise you that. Promise!”

Heads were shaking quite aggressively last Friday on my morning show. The outrage followed the address by President Cyril Ramaphosa the evening before. Ramaphosa had spoken to Jewish South Africans from the pulpit of the Gardens Shul in Cape Town. It was a magnificent attempt to bridge the gap with a community which has been feeling very concerned about the situation in South Africa, and the attitude to Israel and Jews.

In a nutshell, Ramaphosa acknowledged the role played by Jews in the anti-apartheid struggle, and he expressed appreciation for the value the community added to all aspects of South African life. He also indicated willingness to play a part in the Middle East conflict, and asked Jewish business leaders to assist him with the South African economy. It could not have been more positive.

But he didn’t wear a kippa. And according to my listeners, that was not on (so to speak). “Can you imagine”, they asked, “if he had spoken in a Church of Scientology? Or in a Buddhist Temple? Or in a Mosque? “I promise, he would have never have treated them this way. I promise you that!” they intoned.

I didn’t agree. In fact I could not have cared less if he wore a kippa or a burka, and I failed to connect to the outrage. He came to see us in our home to tell us he cared about us. That was enough for me.

As luck would have it, I was due to speak to the Chief Rabbi, the organiser of the event, later on in the show, and undertook to put the question to him. His answer was delightful. “The president was very happy to wear a kippa, and in fact, we brought one for him. The problem was that security protocol demands that any item of clothing needs to be checked thoroughly before he is able to put it on. And we didn’t have the time. We needed to get the kippa to him the day before if this was to be done.” The head of the president’s security detail was very apologetic, but could not alter this rule. And so, the speech went ahead without the president wearing it.

I wondered if the shaking heads would be stilled. Some were, and I was thrilled to receive a message from a listener saying, “What a great lesson this is for this time of year. Don’t judge until you know the whole story.”

I was momentarily overjoyed. That is, until the next message arrived, “Surely they should have planned it better, and arranged for the president’s security to receive it the day before!” One could hear the indignation dripping off the SMS line.

It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good tut-tut from time to time. It’s a wonderful, reaffirming feeling. But we need to keep a close eye on ourselves so that we don’t become outrage addicts.

We need to make sure that we don’t get hooked on moral indignation, and that we prefer joy and positivity over negativity and misery. “I promise we will be better for it. Promise.”

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