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The Importance of Speaking with Others

We have an idea in Judaism: Kol yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh.  It essentially says that all Jews are responsible (liable) for one another.

כל ישראל ערבין זה לזה

It’s a saying tied to your obligations — that your obligations are your obligations plus every single other Jew in world’s obligations.  So your to-do list is never done.  But most people use the saying in a more community-driven way to mean that it is my responsibility to stand beside every other Jew in the world and help them to fulfill what they need to fulfill.  It’s my responsibility not to turn my head from another person’s need whether that is food or shelter or legal rights.  That if I do that, I am harming myself as well because we are all interconnected.

It’s a driving thought behind the way I vote and why I’ve gotten involved in this election. I apply it to all my fellow Americans: kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh: all Americans are responsible for one another.

כל אמריקני ערבין זה לזה

I personally believe there is a candidate — Barack Obama — who embodies to the best of his ability kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh.  He is standing up for marriage equality and offering the same benefits of marriage to all Americans.  He is ensuring that health care is accessible to all Americans and not just those with certain income levels or those who were born without certain health issues.  He is doing a lot to make sure that it is financially feasible for all Americans to go to college if they wish and to be prepared to apply to college in the first place with equality in education.

And yes, in order to have those things, we will need money to make them happen.  We’ll all need to chip in because kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh — we’re all responsible for each other.  Our interconnectedness means I hurt myself when I hurt you.  That I muzzle myself when I don’t speak up for you.  And that I am setting the tone for my future as well as your future based on what I do today.


Until recently, we were the only people in our town outwardly supporting with a lawn sign Ballot Question 6 for marriage equality.  I’d seen a few against marriage equality, but until Sunday afternoon, no other lawn sign asking people to give other people the rights that they enjoy themselves.  At the same time, I’ve yet to speak to a person who is voting against marriage equality in the election.  I know that not everyone who supports marriage equality will place a sign on their lawn, but it is hard to be one of the only people visually standing in support even though I feel hopeful when people tell me they’re voting for Ballot Question 6.

We were driving on Halloween to a party, passing a patch of common ground in our town, and the Wolvog called out from the backseat, “there’s a Ballot Question 6 sign!”

“For or against?” I asked because I hadn’t seen it.

“For!” he called out, so excited to see someone else standing with our family on this issue.

Josh asked me that night if I saw the Ballot Question 6 sign that day and thinking he had noticed it too as he drove to work, I told him that I hadn’t but the Wolvog had and it made him so happy.  Josh pointed at himself.  “I put the sign there.”  It was kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh to the greatest degree: a dad wanting to send a signal to his child that we’re not the only people on the block who support other people (since kids do need to see the tangible sometimes in order to believe), a sign placed to remind people that the rights they enjoy would like to be enjoyed by others as well, and standing in solidarity with a group who needs our voices.  It’s true; I drive by that sign a few times a day and I always smile when I see it.

On Sunday, we were going out to see Argo and we passed our sign on the common ground.  Someone had taken an against Ballot Question 6 sign and put it in front of our sign to cover it up.  Josh pulled over the car, got out, and moved our sign over a few feet so it was visible once again, standing next to the obnoxiously-placed sign.  And then he sent a note to the town listserv that was much more evenly-tempered than what I would have constructed if he had given me access to the keyboard:

To the anti-marriage equality activist who placed a “Don’t Redefine Marriage” sign directly in-front of my “Vote Yes on 6” sign, blocking the view at the corner of a decently busy intersection in my neighborhood;

I’ve moved my sign over and left your sign where it is because unlike you, I don’t wish to deny people basic rights like free expression and the pursuit of happiness through marriage equality. Have a nice day.

Because the truth of kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh is that we’re not only listening to those who think like us.  We’re also listening and thinking about others who are on the other end of the spectrum.  Though we can’t help them to fulfill any obligation they may personally feel which removes rights from other Americans, I do believe that we all need to engage in polite conversation.  I’m always willing to listen to a reasonably-stated argument.  It’s through conversation rather than obnoxious acts such as childishly placing your sign in front of someone else’s sign that we actually see community in action instead of a bunch of voices screaming louder and louder at each other without ever listening to anything being screamed back.  That’s just noise.

When we went back at night to check on the sign (because yes, I wanted to check on our little sign before bed), the two paper signs were still standing upright, side-by-side.  For and against.  I hope other people in our town see our sign and feel supported by a fellow community member.  Josh certainly received enough emails back from people expressing their thanks for his words on the listserv.

When you go to the polls, all I ask is that you think of whether or not the person you are voting for is best representing your interests or America’s interests.  Think of all the people who don’t have a voice and be obligated to them.  Because if the positions were switched, if you were the person who was denied marriage rights, education opportunities or health care, you’d want someone speaking up for you.

And hopefully they will if we all agree to engage in kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh even when it is not election season.


1 N { 11.05.12 at 9:31 am }

I love you guys.

A lot.

2 Ana { 11.05.12 at 10:10 am }

Your kids are so so lucky. Thanks for sharing, I’ve got a lot to learn about how to teach my kids what’s right.

3 Jendeis { 11.05.12 at 11:42 am }

Love you guys so much – you and Josh are my role models for what grown up I’d like to be.

4 Brid { 11.05.12 at 12:34 pm }

Good luck tomorrow, America…
We are rooting for you, here in Canada, with great anticipation for a great outcome.

5 Kate { 11.05.12 at 1:58 pm }

“hink of all the people who don’t have a voice and be obligated to them. Because if the positions were switched, if you were the person who was denied marriage rights, education opportunities or health care, you’d want someone speaking up for you.”

6 Mud Hut Mama { 11.05.12 at 2:29 pm }

Really beautiful post! I love what Josh did but I really wish you weren’t the only ones in your area putting that sign up.

7 loribeth { 11.05.12 at 3:03 pm }

We are our brothers’ (& sisters’) keepers.

Hoping for a good outcome for my American cousins tomorrow… and that, whatever the result, peace (& sanity) will return to your country, soon. (It’s been hard enough watching from across the border; can’t imagine what it would be like living there — especially somewhere like Ohio!!)

8 It Is What It Is { 11.05.12 at 3:49 pm }

The reported closeness of this election has my stomach in knots. It is not just the election, per se, but the vitriol that divides us practically in half as a nation. We, too, are proudly supporting Barack Obama because, as Bill Clinton astutely said “we are all in this together”.

I cannot wait for this election to be over so that the rampant spending on political ads will cease and we can all get back to the business of living our lives knowing who the leader of the free world will be. We face many challenges ahead and I would love to see us face them with dignity for all Americans and the grace that sets us apart from other nations.

9 clare { 11.05.12 at 4:42 pm }

N said it perfectly… love you, your words, and your way of speaking your truths.

10 Battynurse { 11.05.12 at 4:48 pm }

Great post! I’m so impressed in how you involve your children as well. The world and America need people of all ages who are educated in the issues and news of the day.

11 persnickety { 11.05.12 at 5:14 pm }

Great post- it is good to see that you take the time to vote, and to have your kids understand the process and its importance.

When I took the Australian citizenship test it was very simple- to recite a list of obligations and rights. I found the exercise interesting- each right came with a matching obligation- I have the right to claim assistance at an embassy, I have the obligation to do so if I need it etc.

One of these was the right to vote- so I have the right to vote in the elections, and I have the obligation. By not exercising my rights, and taking a considered look I am not fulfilling part of my responsibilities as a citizen. I wish that this had been communicated in the civics classes I took in the USA- so many people see it as an imposition, rather than an a fundamental part of their civic responsibilities.

12 a { 11.05.12 at 5:39 pm }

It’s funny to me that some people feel that their obligation to others is to impose their moral will upon them.

In some ways, I think many people remain silent because they don’t want to get into confrontations with people who hold opposing views. The climate is so adversarial these days that you can rarely have a civil discourse about political issues.

Oh well, I’ll be voting tomorrow!

13 Pale { 11.05.12 at 7:19 pm }

“… all Americans are responsible for one another.” Amen.

“… Because the truth of kol americani arevim zeh la’zeh is that we’re not only listening to those who think like us.” Say it again … Amen.

“Because if the positions were switched, if you were the person who was denied marriage rights, education opportunities or health care, you’d want someone speaking up for you.” Okay. Now you’re just making me cry.

Love you guys.

14 Katie { 11.05.12 at 7:46 pm }

I can’t express enough how much I love this post. And you.

15 Pale { 11.05.12 at 8:05 pm }

Sofia just asked about “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and I whipped out this quotation (below) … I believe it is in the front of the book and that is where I first heard of it … and loved it so much I memorized it … and Sofia said flatly … in 13ish – ese with an eye-roll seeping from each syllable, “I have ~no~ idea what that means.” Mike summarized, without hesitation, “It means … we are all interconnected.”

Synchronicity. Gotta love it. 🙂

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
– John Donne, Meditation XVII

16 Tiara { 11.05.12 at 8:56 pm }

Love love this post & so admire you & your family for standing up for what’s right. You make me want to be a better person.

17 luna { 11.06.12 at 2:22 am }

I love that Josh put the sign up.
If only more Americans shared the sentiment (of both equality and responsibility).

18 Corey Feldman { 11.06.12 at 12:44 pm }

I was surprised at the voting school how many anti marriage equality signs there were. Not something I expected in Montgomery County, MD

19 Stupid Stork { 11.08.12 at 7:25 pm }

How did I miss this!

Holy Guacamole you all are more mature than I am… I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been ingesting bits of that person’s sign before realizing that I should be above that kind of anger.

Although I guess he makes an excellent point – if you’re willing to infringe on someone’s choices, love life, safety and rights, infringing on someone’s sign is probably no big deal to them. 🙁

Happy things went the way they went on Tuesday! Makes me feel warm, fuzzy, hopeful and less afraid.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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