Saturday, March 5, 2011

Courage in the Midst of Controversy

by Miki Kashtan

For the most part, I have been staying clear of controversies. My passion, and where I see my gifts, is for the process of bringing people together across differences more so than in advocating for this or that position. I take a stand for certain principles and for a vision of a world that serves everyone, not for particular opinions, even though I do have my opinions in abundance. This is a conscious and ongoing choice because I want to make myself available to everyone, not only those with whom I happen to agree on any given issue. 

Today, however, I am about to walk a complex line on a rather sensitive topic. I am doing this because I have been writing about tests of courage several times in the last several weeks, and I want to acknowledge two men who have taken a stand despite significant costs in order to honor their own values and moral integrity.

A week from Monday, on March 14th, Tikkun is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Part of the celebration consists of 6 awards given to a number of people, one of whom is Justice Richard Goldstone from South Africa. Goldstone headed a fact-finding commission of the UN to Gaza in 2008-2009, and the report that came from that investigation has been the center of enormous controversy. So much so, that Goldstone agreed not to go to his grandson’s Bar Mitzva to avoid a mass demonstration that would divert attention away from the family and the focus on the boy.

I plan to post again tomorrow with more about the controversy and what lessons I want to draw from it. For now, I want to focus on courage. First, I want to take in how much courage Goldstone had to have in order to accept the invitation to lead the commission and to face the attacks and accusations he surely knew he would face.

Then I want to acknowledge Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and founder of the Network for Spiritual Progressives, who decided to honor Goldstone. Again, this took significant courage. Soon after making his support of Goldstone public, his house was defaced with graffiti that said: “self-hating Jew” and “anti-Semite like Goldstone.” Rabbi Lerner didn’t back down, and continues to publicly endorse and defend Goldstone.

I have been very inspired and touched by the courage of these two men, and I decided to write this piece so I could acknowledge their courage and draw attention to the occasion of the 25th Anniversary and the award giving. As I started, I learned that much more was at stake here for me. I realized that in posting this piece I am stretching my own muscles around courage. Writing this post (including the 2nd part that’s coming tomorrow) has taken me longer than just about any other post on this blog. I write, erase, write again, look, rethink. I rarely do that, and so I have to believe I am afraid, somewhere, of some reaction, from someone. Now, as I am writing these words, I am tapping into compassion for all the people who don’t speak up about things that matter to them out of fear. What we are afraid of varies. The choice point is the same. At some point, somehow, we manage to take the stand, to recognize the risk and welcome it, accept the consequences, and live in integrity. I am hoping that by writing about this, and by adding my own fear to the mix and making visible the possibility of transcending fear to take a stand, I can contribute something to nurture more courage in more of us. I know we will need every bit of it, because so much is at stake if we want to turn the tide of human life on this planet into a more workable future.