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September 25, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

At what point do we cry?

Emilie Socash
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

Two women have been weighing heavy on my mind. The first is likely a familiar name in your household; the second, perhaps less so.

Kim Davis, the county clerk in Rowan County, KY, has made quite a name for herself by refusing to issue marriage licenses to couples of any stripe after the Supreme Court included same-sex marriage rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite a federal order to issue such licenses, she defied the court, indicating she was acting “under God’s authority.” She went on to receive continued media spotlight when she used the song “Eye of the Tiger” (by Survivor) as a dramatic coming-out-of-jail message, but did not get permission from the band.

Patty Mayo was also acting in what she felt was within her moral authority earlier this month when she arranged for her 18-year-old daughter to be kidnapped by a supposed thug after the daughter was catfished on Tinder. (Translation: “catfishing” is where an individual presents him or herself as someone false online, typically in order to gain a meeting under false pretense.) To teach her daughter a lesson about the dangers of online dating, she took matters into her own hands in a touch of scared-straight vigilante maternal machination. The man and a friend appeared at the selected Starbucks and rather than bearing flowers, donned masks and physically accosted the young woman, dragging her into a nearby van, videotaping the entire incident.

Both issues are gravely disturbing: these women acted independently and methodically, well outside the laws of our nation and rational sense. Both broke the law. Both leave us scratching our heads. But both also believed they were upholding ethics of greatest importance – the sanctity of marriage and the safety of their child. We can only imagine the inner monologue running through these ladies’ minds: “I’m doing what’s right. This will show ‘em.”

The humor-mongers of the internet quickly made short work of Kim Davis: witty trolls quickly took over the #FreeKimDavis hashtag, tweeting things like “#FreeKimDavis … Worst coupon ever,” or Photoshopping Kim’s face into scenes from Orange is the New Black. I admit, I have enjoyed the multitude of memes picturing various people (for example, Winston from Ghostbusters) disagreeing with the premise of their job (in this case, “Didn’t believe in ghosts”) and closing with the witticism, “Still did his job.”

I doubt that either woman has taken the time to read Bob Feferman’s insightful piece “The Price of Indifference” in The Times of Israel (Sept. 16) nor consider Bob’s position on the shock-value media can have on social issues. I had the opportunity to chat with Bob a couple years back when he visited Orlando as part of a larger conference organized by the Consul General of Israel’s office out of Miami, and he shared a personal and professional passion for his work with the organization United Against a Nuclear Iran, for which he is their outreach coordinator.

In the article, he carefully dissects the role that Iran has played regarding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and opens boldly with the outward accusation: “This is the price of your indifference to Iran’s role in the tragedy of Syria.” The referenced price? The worldwide visibility of the tragic death of a 3-yearold refugee who drowned attempting to reach safety in Europe. And who is the “you/your” he speaks to? That would be readers just like you and me.

The toddler’s death plays in stark relief against the backdrop of the 5-year ongoing Syrian genocide. (And if you need further evidence to call it a genocide, check out the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page “Evidence of Atrocities in Syria,” presented from the perspective of a defector who photo-documented at least 55,000 of the dead.) Fundraising 101 tells us to always tell the “story of one,” and this illustrates the psychology behind identifying with one among the many.

These examples – Kim Davis, Patty Mayo, Bob Feferman’s implied involvement of you and I – seem to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in response to the question, “Where do we draw the line between action and inaction, between right and wrong response?” Is it possible that to respond with humor to a significant civil rights issue is an appropriate reaction? Are we doing our civic duty when we “share” a link to an article about child-shaming, scare tactics, or the deplorable inhumanity of a genocide’s results?

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I laugh because I must not cry.” At what point does the laughing end?

Getting around

I had the joy of sitting down with Debbie Sembler earlier this month, and was delighted to hear that she is excited about the year to come from the Federation perspective, and also interested in attending the General Assembly (“GA”) with others from our area. The General Assembly is an annual multi-day conference, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of North America, typically drawing well over 3,000 professionals and lay people from across North America’s Jewish community in the effort of educating, engaging, and inspiring. (Full disclosure: I’ll be speaking at this year’s GA about trends in philanthropy.)

One of my roles in leading the Federation is participating in conversation at the community level – locally and nationally. I was honored to be invited to attend meetings of both the Board of Rabbis, and the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services Advisory Council. I found both groups to engender significant commitment to serving the greatest needs of our community, and I hope that I can in some small part contribute to the progress of both as we work together toward building and strengthening our broader community.

Opportunities to engage on a one-on-one basis as well as in larger groups, locally and nationally, offer a nice counterpart to much of what I read or hear about in news-making matters.

If you are interested in getting to know me and our Federation a little better, please join me at my next open house on the town, on Monday, Oct. 19 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Simply stop by craft café (6653 Central Ave., St. Petersburg): coffee’s on me!

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