Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ann Coulter And Nana

On Friday, I said that both Ann Coulter and my grandmother were mentioned in synagogue -- which was bizarre, but that there was a perfectly logical explanation.

Here's the perfectly logical explanation:

Ann Coulter discussed during Rabbi Simon's sermon. Nana's name was mentioned a few minutes later because it was her Yahrzeit, or the anniversary of her death.

It was only after I had left shul that it dawned upon me that I would never have expected to hear those two names -- Ann Coulter and Adele Simanoff -- so close to each other. It really wasn't so bizarre, but it seemed kind of weird. My grandmother and Ann Coulter seem to belong to two completely different universes. One belongs to a completely politicized realm that only exists on television, and the other is long dead and only lives in my memory.

Rabbi Simon began his sermon by talking about Ann Coulter's recent appearance on CNBC's "The Big Idea."

That's the talk show on which she told host Donny Deutsch (who happens to be Jewish), "We just want Jews to be perfected... ."

Rabbi Simon lingered on this thought for a while, and said there are plenty of fundamentalists Christians that share Coulter's thought that the entire world should be comprised of people just like them. Similarly, he said, there are fundamentalist Jews who want the world to be made up of fundamentalist Jews, and fundamentalist Muslims who want the world to be made up of fundamentalist Muslims.

How sad it must be for those people who embrace hegemony over diversity, he said.

Rabbi Simon then switched gears and spoke about something I hadn't heard about -- which is surprising, as I work in a newsroom, and I'm usually in the know. He said Gov. Charlie Crist recently put a mezuzzah on his office door in Tallahassee.

Rabbi Simon said the mezuzzah makes him uncomfortable because it blurs the line between church and state. He said that line's not very clear though, because the First Amendment doesn't actually call for a separation between government and religious institutions -- it just forbids the government from establishing its own state religion. Thomas Jefferson interpreted the First Amendment to mean that there should be a wall between church and state, he explained.

So, is Charlie Crist's mezuzzah OK?

At this point, Rabbi Simon paused.

"You may notice that I've yet to make a point," he said.

Why is it so hard to define what's acceptable expression of religious belief and what violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, he asked. Because we still don't have all the answers, and because we as a society will sometimes make bad decisions when it comes to this topic, and move backwards when we should be making progress, he said.

We're a lot like Abraham, Rabbi Simon said.

In this week's Torah portion, Lech L'cha, G-d instructs Abraham to leave home. It's G-d's first test for Abraham, and Abraham passes.

There are many more tests to come, Rabbi Simon said, and Abraham fails some of those. Whenever he fails, he dusts himself off and moves ahead.

The lesson to learn from Abraham is that it's important to keep moving forward even if you've taken a step backward, Rabbi Simon said. That's true if you're a figure in the Torah, or a diverse, multi-ethnic evolving country trying to figure out the role religion plays in government and society.

The other lesson from Abraham?

"Ask the tough questions, even when they don't provide definite answers," Simon said.

Of course, as a world famous reporter who must remain objective, I not going discuss my views publicly about politics, religion and Ann Coulter.

(What, you thought I was going to disagree with my rabbi? He went to rabbinical school, and I can't even remember which Hebrew vowel makes the 'oo' sound and which one makes the 'ow' sound. I think he has a bit more insight into religion than I do.)

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