Patience, Faith, and Awakening … How to Treat a Hardened Heart

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

I heard these words today as I took a break from working to wash the dishes that had accumulated in my kitchen sink. I have had the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart on my mind quite a bit this week (both because that is where Jews are in our cycle of reading Torah, and for reasons that are obvious to many Americans). I turned on my radio (tuned to 89.7 WOSU) to check in with the world and heard a British accent and a different format from the regular programming I was expecting and wondered why. As I listened to the story being broadcast because of a “technical difficulty,” which I now value as a “divine intervention” in my day, I came to know exactly why.

The BBC Heart and Soul piece from travel journalist Tharik Hussain, entitled Muslims in President Trump’s America, transported me from the kitchen sink to a much more expansive terrain. The picture Hussain painted of my country reignited and intertwined with the emotional-intellectual-spiritual topography of my week. This week, the second since my smicha/ordination as a rabbi, included, among other things:

  • the federal holiday celebrating the birth of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
  • the first anniversary of the inauguration of the current President of the United States,  and
  • an opportunity to fast and participate, locally, in a national vigil on the streets outside Wendy’s locations (18FaithFast).

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

On a very brisk Thursday afternoon, local clergy, OSU students engaged in farmworker justice, and other allies stood in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and people of faith from across the country at the Wendy’s on North High Street across from the OSU campus. Wendy’s (an international, locally-created and -headquartered corporation) still refuses to sign the Fair Food Agreement that has been signed by all of its competitors and many other corporations, choosing instead to source its produce from Mexico, where farmworkers are victims of even more tragic and inhumane conditions in the fields and packing houses, all so that Wendy’s can increase their profit margin while we buy a cheap sandwich, chili, or fries. The words from the radio story resonate even more deeply because I heard them yesterday at the vigil as well. 

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

There is no question that civil rights workers have always needed to call upon patience and perseverance. Faith in the Divine Mystery (one of my favorite “names” for God) has also been an important source of strength, courage, and fortitude. As we stood in the sunshine yesterday, the chill of the frigid temperatures heightening our awareness of our privilege to go home to warm houses, we recalled the work of Dr. King and those who stood with him – using their bodies to pray and speak truth to power in peaceful and persistent ways. We listened to words about the Wendy’s boycott from Uriel Perez, National Faith C0-Coordinator for the Alliance for Fair Food, and prayed together before we crossed High Street to try to speak with the Wendy’s manager and to give her a letter we had all signed asking that Wendy’s commit to participating in the Fair Food Program which ensures that farmworkers are not subject to human rights abuses.

When we entered the Wendy’s location, we were immediately met with hostility from the manager who would not speak to us and told us to leave and that she was calling the police. Even more disturbing was the “righteous indignation” from a young man, likely an OSU student, who was waiting in line at 3:30 p.m. He didn’t appear to be in a hurry, had no interest in the reason for our visit, and showed no respect for our visible status as Christian and Jewish clergy or for our “advanced age” (that of his parents and grand-parents). He was immediately combative, stepping forward to yell at this small band of clergy and students who quietly and politely asked to deliver a letter and a message about the treatment of those who planted, picked, packed and delivered his food.

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

Some of us, accustomed to utilizing our privilege (among us, we held white, male, and educational privileges) to accomplish our goals, wanted to address the rudeness of the manager and the young man, wanted to stay to educate those in line, wanted to stay until the police arrived. However, as allies we do not set the agenda – we support it (an important lesson I learned years ago from the CIW while I was in Immokalee with T’ruah). Thus, we followed Uriel (our archangel ally of CIW) out of the Wendy’s as soon as we encountered resistance and returned to our vigil across the street. In helping us to understand this strategy, Uriel reminded us that the farmworkers do not hold the privilege that we do. Waiting for the police and other lawful activities are a luxury for those of us who hold privilege in this country. He also reminded us that the manager was not the culprit in our experience; she was merely following company policy so she can put food on the table and care for her family.

The experience of “white privilege” is challenging for me as a woman and as a Jew. Women in this country are still not treated equally to men, across the spectrum, and the rise in a national dialogue about sexual assault and misconduct by men against women is only beginning to uncover systemic repression and institutional bias. Sexism is very real; so is anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, I had to explain to my son, in the wake of Charlottesville, that there are still people in this country and beyond who don’t consider Jews to be “white” and that I have difficulty marking that box on any document that asks my race/ethnicity. My experience as “other,” though it currently involves far less open hostility than experienced by my friends of color and those who are Muslim and Sikh, is still trauma that informs my conscious and sub-conscious reactions and feelings. It is hard for me (and other Jewish women I have spoken with about this) to hold this duality of embodying both privilege and victimization, and I am working on growing my ability to speak clearly about this discomfort and pain.

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

In thanking us, as faith leaders, for fasting and participating in the vigil, Uriel reminded us how much the farmworkers draw on their faith – their absolute belief in a God who cares for and protects the poor, the oppressed, the most marginalized among us. I remembered Uriel’s words again today as one of the Muslim voices on the radio spoke about building a bridge of love through good, authentic food. “The prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, had patience for people who attacked him and we are required to react this way as long as we are not directly threatened.” As an American Jew straddling the 20th and 21st centuries, I am acutely aware of how little I have had to utilize faith in God to achieve my goals. It sounds a bit odd from a newly ordained rabbi, and, in truth, many progressive Jews have a limited bandwidth for the word “faith” when it comes to our level of trust/belief/confidence in God. Those of us who live in the shadow of the Shoah/Holocaust and other unconscionable human tragedies, who grew up with much more emphasis on intellectual vs. spiritual pursuits, and who live privileged and protected lives, think we have less need for the kind of faith that farmworkers and American Muslims speak of. Although I do not envy their predicament, I do yearn for that level of faith in the Divine Mystery and have found myself walking in that direction for many years now, though I still frequently notice myself reverting to more ingrained intellectual tendencies. As I ally with CIW, I trust their well-considered decisions, deeply rooted in faith, about how best to proceed in this social justice work. They inspire me to be more faithful in my patience.

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

“If you are doing ‘tit-for-tat’ of what other people are doing [to oppress you], you are one of them.” said a Muslim women who migrated to Morgantown, WV, in the 1970s. I think of my male colleague who was initially frustrated yesterday by the decision to leave Wendy’s. I, too, wanted to stay and use my privilege, position, and perceived power to lecture that young man who really got under my skin. I think of the long-term strategy of the CIW and the way they have responded to the arrogance and repeated dismissal by Wendy’s corporate leaders, board of trustees, and local managers who are just following company orders. It is akin to the hubris I see in the current U.S. President and others. It is so easy to get riled up and drawn into positional arguments …

I am drawn back to voices on the radio. Of Trump’s polarizing impact on America, a Muslim medical school professor in Morgantown says, “it has awakened us. There are more and more interfaith programs on the national and local level. God has a reason for everything,” he posits. “Maybe [God] brought this to unite us all under one umbrella.” I think of my passion for interfaith work here in Columbus and nationally, and the amazing friends and colleagues I now have because of our shared advocacy. Another voice on the radio talks about the extraordinary freedoms in the United States to practice whatever religion you wish in an great variety of ways. I am reminded of the ideals of those who founded this country and so many others who have paved the way for the work I do with Faith in Public Life, T’ruah, Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light, Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders, and others.

“Patience gives us an opportunity to test our faith.” 

 Near the end of the radio program, one of the young men being interviewed quotes the Quran, explaining that in the biblical story shared by the three Abrahamic faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the words that Jacob/Yakub repeated to himself when Joseph/Yusuf was taken from him are “patience is beautiful.” This is not in Torah and I have not studied the Koran; I am so intrigued by this interpretation of Jacob’s posture in light of the “loss” of his son. In Torah, we learn that Jacob/Ya’akov‘s response is to mourn the death of his son as soon as he is given Joseph/Yosef’s blood-soaked coat and told by his other sons that Joseph has been devoured by a wild beast.* I am inspired to study Quran with a Muslim friend … perhaps a group of us experiencing sacred text through different lenses. 

Patience and awakening (to the need for action) are combining to provide a sense of hope in many Muslim Americans, the voice from the radio says. I realize that I, too, am buoyed most days by the actions I am taking in response to my determination to turn this presidency, the impacts of oppression and incivility, and the debilitating apathy I see all around me into an opportunity to sow seeds of radical love, to cultivate positive relationships, to nourish unifying and energizing ideas and ideals. And thanks to the Muslim voices I have just heard on the BBC feed, and the Christian faithfulness of the farmworkers, I will add to my growing Jewish spiritual toolkit an extra dose of patience and faith. God knows, we are going to need plenty of both. As we see mirrored in this week’s parshat ha’shavua/ weekly Torah portion, we are deep in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and we will need patience, faith, and awakening to make our way to freedom.

For a valuable antidote to hardened hearts, in Mitzrayim (biblical Egypt) and in America, I share with you the music video I learned of in the prophetic radio broadcast this afternoon – click here to listen to Raef Haggag, whose song “We are Home” lifted the themes of the story in which he was featured.

May we be blessed with the patience to realize our shared home. 

Shabbat Shalom.

* B’reishit/Genesis 37:33-34
This entry was posted in Holiday Celebrations, Human Rights, Parshat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *