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It’s been easy to forget, with all the events of the day, that Sunday is Mother’s Day.
Yoram Hazony, chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation and author of “The Virtue of Nationalism,” recently wrote an article for The American Conservative that challenges us about respect for the elderly. I don’t often quote conservative commentators, but when they are right, they are right.
The public debate right now is reflective of our nation’s penchant for the rigidity of binary thinking. We’re weighing the overlap of economics against the value of human lives. Hazony points to “the harm that is done by utilitarian pronouncements about the ‘relative value’ of the lives of people ‘already nearing the end of their life spans.’”
There was already fertile ground for this with the “OK, boomer” meme prevalent on social media. Young people, burdened by entering the workforce with exorbitant student loans, health care costs, and the dream of home ownership way out of reach compared with their parents’ generations, have started pushing back against the perception that boomer voting concerns always seem to outweigh their generational concerns. I think there’s a smidgeon of this underpinning the present debate.
This sentiment boils down to: You’re done contributing to the GDP, retirees and elderly, you’ve savaged the environment with your generation’s rabid consumer capitalism, go do Edward G. Robinson in “Soylent Green” and make room, make room.
Judaism has an unequivocal response to this, one that we need to broadcast especially on Mother’s Day. For 5,000 years, our faith has fielded a core commandment to honor our father and mother and our elders. This commandment isn’t, as Hazony says, “about doing easy things like buying presents or giving compliments to older people.”
It’s about doing profoundly difficult things, such as taking care of those who may never be grateful for what you’ve done, or even if it causes you great difficulty.
“If it were an easy thing to honor your father and mother as they get old, it wouldn’t have made it to the Ten Commandments,” Hazony adds.
When I see a church, such as Calvary Chapel in Orrington, willing to reopen in what is only a display of arrogance, I have to wonder how supposedly “holy people” can truly care about the word of the Divine. Many Christians are fond of pointing out the performative hypocrisy of “the Pharisees.” Defiant reopening of a religious institution for worship is nothing less than a bumptious spectacle unworthy of people who claim fealty to God.
Neither the Ten Commandments nor the Christian Great Commission would put risking the lives of the vulnerable ahead of “honor thy father and thy mother.” This is embedded in thousands of years of both Jewish and Christian doctrine.
Whether Gov. Janet Mills or President Donald Trump yield to the pressure to reopen the economy, Congregation Beth Israel is going to continue to consider our members’ age and vulnerability before anything else when we make the decisions on how and when to resume services. We are fortunate to have the considered and educated opinion of medical professionals within our congregation, including one with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If, and only if, we know it to be safe, will we resume services, and even then with appropriate precaution.
I treasure our imahot (our mothers). I treasure my mother. And because I treasure them, making any precipitous move is unacceptable to me. A life doesn’t have less value because it’s already full or approaching the end, especially if you live by the law of the Divine.
Our society loves to speak of Judeo-Christian values. “Honor thy father and thy mother” is the only one that matters as we make these considerations. Period.
Brian Kresge of Winterport is president of Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor.