WHAT exactly was wrong with the way Rosa Parks was treated?
Parks, of course, was the courageous lady who began the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in 1955, a seminal event — both symbolic and effective — in the history of the Civil Rights movement.
Before she refused to sit in the back of the bus, was Parks denied her money’s worth? No, she paid for her ride, and the bus took her where she wanted to go.
Was Parks charged more than other people, and discriminated in that way? No.
Was Parks given an inferior ride? No, she was on the same bus as the white riders. Her ride was just as good as theirs.
Was Parks not allowed to take the bus? Was she denied entrance or participation in the public transportation system? Again, no.
Exactly what, then, was missing when she was asked to sit in the back of the bus? Not money, not comfort, not participation — but dignity.
Now, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the colored section for a white rider after the white section had filled up; but there is no doubt that her goal was to put an end to the practice of making blacks sit in the back of the bus, even if they had a seat, even if they were allowed full participation in the bus ride. The primary insult she suffered was in being degraded. It was a matter of dignity.
There is also no doubt that her treatment was incomparably worse than mine.
CALL me naive. A month or six weeks ago I received an invitation to the 100th anniversary event of the ADL. I was excited. One hundred years is a magnificent milestone. It is not easy to sustain anything for 100 years.
To those who say, “well, of course, the fight against anti-Semitism will always find institutional sustainability,” actually, not. Readers might be surprised to learn that 70 years ago in Denver, these were the smaller organizations: the federation, ADL and JFS. Larger than all of them put together was B’nai B’rith. Not so today. Organizations don’t just keep going, no matter how important their mission. So I really was impressed by the upcoming 100th anniversary of ADL.
Not to mention, its mission against bigotry and anti-Semitism is noble and necessary.
So I sent off a reservation.
I assumed the event was kosher.
The Men’s Event of the federation is kosher.
The Shalom Park dinner is kosher.
The AIPAC breakfast is kosher.
The JNF breakfast is kosher.
The JCC dinner is kosher.
Of course, the ADL 100th anniversary dinner would also be kosher. I didn’t even give it a second thought. The ADL is about dignity and inclusiveness.
I thought the community had settled this issue 25 years ago, and it required no further conversation. But the ADL event was not kosher.
I guess the issue does require further conversation. So, here goes.
DID the ADL ask me to pay more to get into its event? No, the cost was the same.
Would I be denied a meal of the same quality as anyone else at this dinner? No, a quality substitute would be provided.
Would I be denied participation? Again, no.
Exactly what, then, was missing?
To be sure, the indignity of segregation was incomparably worse. But as the ADL itself rightly reminds us, large affronts begin with smaller ones. For me to keep kosher at the ADL’s non-kosher dinner would mean being singled out on the basis of religion. I (and some others) would be forced to become Mr. Oddball.
SHELDON Steinhauser, the longtime director of the local ADL, told me that he is very grateful for the existence of a newspaper like the Intermountain Jewish News, even though he definitely does not agree with every editorial stance it takes. I am very grateful for the existence of the ADL, even though I don’t agree with every policy stance it takes.
Kashrut, however, does not seems to be a policy disagreement. When I am told by an ADL spokesman that a kosher meal is more expensive, and the organization must be cognizant of budgetary issues, this seems to confirm that we are not dealing with a policy issue here.
I find it inexplicable that an organization so sensitive to including minorities is insensitive to a well known teaching of the Torah — kashrut — when it is the Torah that is the basis of the Jewish commitment to justice and sensitivity to minorities.
If not for pride in the Torah, the long Jewish tradition of standing up for the underdog would not exist. It is the Torah that bequeathed to Jews the idea of doing the right thing, even if there’s a price.
If I argue for the right of an Hispanic child born in America to get in-state tuition, this is a source of Jewish pride, even though my stance might cost me business.
If I report someone who is engaged in human trafficking, this is a source of Jewish pride, even though I might put myself in some danger.
If I pay more taxes in order to be in strict compliance with the law, this is a source of Jewish pride, even though there is a price.
If I regard 10% of my net income as simply not belonging to me, but as belonging to tzedakah, this is a source of Jewish pride, whatever the financial loss.
The source of all this Jewish pride is the Torah. And when I hear that a kosher meal is more expensive, my instinctive reaction is: I am proud to have to pay the price.
Jewish dignity can, and often does, mean paying a price. Why is this even controversial?
However, if the added expense of making a large dinner kosher would pose a genuine budgetary challenge, Jewish pride and dignity have an inexpensive, more inclusive alternative to a non-kosher dinner: Don’t have a dinner. Have a smaller, more modest desert reception. Or a breakfast.
Rosa Parks didn’t want to hurt Montgomery’s bus company. She wanted it to succeed, just so long as it provided her with dignity along the way. The dignity of a kosher dinner is the proud cost of doing Jewish business for AIPAC, Shalom Park, DAT, Allied Jewish Federation, JNF, Hillel, JCC, DJDS and many others — because it’s the right thing to do.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News