No Gold Medal’s Worth this Hate: Word #45

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.



Word 45



living in a big city like New York means one develops thick skin. Not every scream out there in the street in the middle of the night will get me out of bed to see what’s happening, and not every homeless person on the street receives attention, smile, or coin. Petitions, pleas, ‘just 2 minutes of my time’ and other good intentioned calls for help or world salvation sometimes go ignored. Good or bad, it’s a survival thing and one learns to be present to what shows up in ways one can and hopefully be as sensitive as possible to the needs of others, near or far. Online living means that the world is smaller, more of us know about things that go on in faraway places to people whom we may not know at all and have very little to do with, and yet, in many ways great and small – we sometimes care enough to like, comment, protest or actually do something about it – whatever the it may be.

Sometimes ignoring a problem that is going on is simply not possible anymore.


Like what’s going on to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Russia. And the mess erupting with the winter Olympics, including the  most recent and upsetting response of the Olympic Committee – threatening to fine any athlete who will protest Russian’s anti gay laws.



I’m not sure what the right approach is – boycott? Call for a total ban that folks like Stephen Fry suggested?  Show up and protest at any cost?


Much has been spoken and written already on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that went on, business pretty much as usual, tongues clucking, while Dachau was already working overtime.

Most were silent and ignored what was going on.


After the war Heidegger was asked why he remained silent during the extermination of the Jews. He replied by equating post-war Soviet treatment of East Germans with the Nazi treatment of the Jews, defending himself and others by claiming “ the bloody terror of the Nazis was in fact kept secret from the German people.”



I’m a son of a Holocaust survivor, and a proud gay Jewish man, privileged to live in a big city that enables me to do as I wish while I hurt no other.  I am a student of Heschel, who marched in the South.

This legacy   and my personal privilege require me to more acutely aware of the plight of my people,  and all people, then and now. I may not ignore the call for human solidarity and for the right fight for human dignity, compassion and equal rights. There are other issues at bay, for sure – bigotry, racism, occupation and religious-fueled hate in many places around the world, including my own backyard.

But sometimes a voice is heard in the middle of the night, louder than others and can not be ignored.

Even if it’s a language I don’t understand.


This week’s Torah text, Ki Tetze,  proscribes a recipe for civic co-existence and a better society by introducing the first ‘Lost & Found’ . It’s simple – if you find something that belongs to someone else – don’t ignore it. Go out of your way to return the loss. If it’s an animal, keep it until you are able to return it to the owner. And if you see a friend in need, or even a stranger – stop to lend a hand. Do not ignore.


It’s not that the Torah is a perfect bill of human rights. The next verse prohibits cross-dressing as abomination, stopping just short of capital punishment for said crime. Just what Putin needs to hear. But we, modern readers,  get to choose, and focus, ignore this law – but not ignore the other one just one verse earlier, that really resonates to us today. The Torah may not be into blurring gender boundaries, but our reality, for the most part, is not that harshly drawn. When it comes to the laws of love your neighbor it should make no difference who that neighbor loves.

Putin’s Russia has opened a pandora’s box of venom and violence that can not be ignored and should not be condoned and supported. That includes participation in the Winter Olympics. I know, sucks for the athletes, but isn’t our human responsibility to each other more precious than bronze, silver or gold??

Spilling Russian vodka aside: What’s the best way to go about this fight? I’d like to read your options. Thank you.


Shabbat Shalom

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.

Cut to the Chase: Moses, James Bond, Drama in DC: Word 25

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.




On the evening before Seder my father and I watch Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, on their home TV. He used to like action flicks, and with all the cooking going on in the kitchen it seemed like the perfect diversion.
I’ve not a big fan of gunblazing action but found myself riveted, towel in hand, matza balls waiting, sitting next to him and narrating some of what’s going on (‘no, that’s not the bad guy – he’s the good guy’) and tensing up with each and every chase scene. There are lots.  
“Did you like it?” I ask him later, he shrugs – it was OK. But later, when he’s getting ready to go upstairs he says to me: ‘good guys don’t always win.”

The next night we sit around the Seder table, intimate, just 8 of us, I get to lead, and skip around the hagada to focus on the key issues,  cut to the chase: What about this exodus story is important, meaningful, helpful to us today? Beyond the preservation of national legend, our master story – what here is useful to our personal soul journeys, our struggles with what holds us back and what helps us be more free?

Not everyone in my family is into the psychological rendering of passover, but they’re with me so far. Inspired by Skyfall I go to the chase scene, which is only alluded to in the classical hagada but is the one biblical quote I choose to read verbatim, trying to make the story as tense and anxiety provoking as the best of Bond:

“And the Egyptians chased them,  horses and chariots of Pharaoh, the army, and overtook them encamping by the sea..

The children of Israel looked up..and were terrified, and cried out to God, and yelled at Moses: There were not enough graves in Egypt?? We told you back in Egypt – leave us alone! It would have better for us to stay slaves in Egypt rather than die here in this wilderness.”(Ex. 14:9-12)It’s great text. Also chosen to be the Torah reading on the Sabbath of Passover. Much has been written on this first official Jewish National reaction to crisis: a sarcastic joke and terrified refusal of risk. What does this reaction tell us about our ancestors, about ourselves and our own choices?

What does it tell us about the fear that chases us on our fleeing from where we’re stuck to greater inner freedom.

“Imagine that you are in that chase scene,” I ask the Seder guests, well into our 2nd (really 4th) wine refill, “Who are you?  What’s your reaction? What will you do?”

We get into it: One of us will fight, two will hide, two will pray, three will run ahead into the sea.

The conversation drifted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the new government, Iran, Syria, religious extremism, digital overdose and global warming: what are our different reactions to crisis, to change, when danger is on us like a hostile army? As individuals, as nations? Are we like the ancient children of Israel sarcastic and fearful of the future or do we leap into the sea and risk it all for progress? Or somewhere in between?

Right from Seder (‘best ever’  tweeted by niece) into the supreme court drama in DC. It’s not exactly a chase scene but there’s bad guys and good guys, and whatever happens in these next weeks and months this is certainly another major milestone in the public liberation project of the American people.  here, too, the reactions to major change, to the call for ‘exodus’ are telling – the choice to stick to familiar narratives and fears or go for a more complex but equalizing reality, with more dignity for all. The Phraonic forces are chasing, and who knows, in this version of the saga, they may still get the good guys. Like my father said – good guy doesn’t always win.

The chase is on.

Here’s hoping, praying, trusting that the good guys win, that not many get hurt in the chase, that progress will overcome the tyranny of terror.

Not just for James Bond, or for Moses, in blockbusters of biblical proportions and sacred myths of old –   but also in courts of justice – i hope that our master stories  will hopefully guide us to a much more promised land.

Happy Passover, Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.