I spend a lot of time in a neighborhood formed and shaped by hate. Not directly, yet the people who gathered, lived, and often died here were very familiar with the most intense, ruthless, and evil filled forms of hate. Yesterday I walked the streets of the community, guided by an immigrant’s grandson who still remembered the stories of year’s gone by with his heart. Even in the bright afternoon sun you could see yesterday’s shadows. It isn’t hard to imagine people pouring out onto the streets as Shabbat approached, reaching out, holding onto hope, walking away from hate. Yet the past shapes us all, often in ways more deep and precise ways than we are willing to acknowledge.
There is something wonderful about New York’s lower east side. I can imagine what it would be like trash talking replaced the way of holding onto hope. It would be truly ugly! “Get a place ready to slaughter the sons of the wicked and wipe out their father's line. Unthinkable that they should own a square foot of land or desecrate the face of the world with their cities!” (Isaiah 14.21) Away with them! Wipe every trace of these people off this earth.
I find God’s call echoing what filled the large majority of early lower east side’s hearts. There is no room for hate, only hope. There is no point for revenge, only compassion. There is no reason to look back, only to this moment in time. The question then and now is simply – “what will I do”? This neighborhood was a poor one yet many moved beyond survival and prospered in all senses of the word. I believe they heard God’s call to hope and compassion. I believe we can hear the same call today.
With each day we create a legacy for those who follow. For the young this is considered the domain of the gray hairs. Ironically we all leave our marks – young, old, rich, and poor. We stand before God and each other equally. The shape will be your choice and mine.
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