[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]
[Post very worth seeing: Conquests of Jerusalem and Israel's Control at Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations]
Some weeks back, I was sitting in a shul somewhere in Canada waiting for Maariv to begin, and I heard a man learning with his pre-adolescent son. They were talking about the mitzvah of לא תעמוד על דם רעך – “You shall not stand by your brother’s blood” – which requires us to act to save others who are in danger.
The father explained to his son that this is a critical mitzvah, that we must stand up on behalf of people who are in need. So far, so good. But then he said, “This is especially a problem in America; people there don’t help each other.”
I wanted to say to him, "I’m an American, pal. Where do you get off generalizing about an entire country? That’s horrible chinuch (pedagogy)." (And I’m a New Yorker, so I also wanted to hit him, but that’s another matter.)
Not to mention, he was wrong – wasn’t he?
I instinctively assumed he had to be wrong, although I had no statistics to offer to the contrary. Of course he was wrong. How could he be right? Wasn’t my life saved by… um, no, come to think of it. But didn’t I have a relative who was in… no, not that, either. Didn’t I know someone who was saved by a stranger’s intervention, or something? Um… no.
So all I had to go with was my general intuition that Americans are not the soulless, internally focussed drones who ignored the screams of Kitty Genovese in the 1960’s. Not exactly convincing, that.
But it realy did bother me, and continues to bother me, in terms of the generalization. Did that really serve a purpose in educating his son? Did his son internalize the lesson of intervention by picturing genial Canada’s southern neighbor as a self-centered slob?
It reminded me of the way that some Jews generalize about non-Jews in teaching their kids, actually. Also a very uncomfortable thing.
Bottom line: I don’t think we need to put down others in order to teach our children lessons about positive behavior. And Gd bless America.