earI admit it. I was eavesdropping.

But, in all fairness, they were being quite loud. And I was, apparently, invisible, as is often the case when I’m near a group of teens. I don’t mind, really. Invisibility helps with the eavesdropping.

“You’re from South Carolina?! A lot of Confederate flags there…”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of racists there.”

I resist the urge to correct her grammar.

“Which do you think is more racist, South Carolina or Georgia?”

“South Carolina, definitely.”

Others in the group murmur in agreement.

Their conversation continues in a direction I am not expecting. They are talking about the verdict, speculating about where the next Trayvon Martin will live and die. A few suggest Midwestern cities, saying that such an incident could happen anywhere.

“Guys, face it. This stuff happens all the time. Every day. Everywhere.  What’s weird is how this case is getting so much national attention.”

I glance up, sideways, to see the tall, lanky young man who speaks softly, persuasively and clearly from personal experience.

I remember talking with Reverend Floyd when he first arrived at Stanford University. Floyd told me that he was regularly stopped by Campus Police officers for “WWB: Walking While Black.” I remember finding it difficult to relate to his experience, because Campus Police was so helpful and solicitous to me.

I tune in to the teenagers again and find that they have moved on to another topic. One of the girls is talking about her decision to study at Emory University’s Oxford campus, because it is cheaper. When asked what the main difference is between the Oxford and Atlanta campuses, she replies, “They have marble steps and we don’t.”

No matter how sensitive we try to be, we are limited in our understanding of how others experience and perceive the world around us. Listening to their conversation, I am astonished by the astute observations and wise proclamations of these teens.  As a middle-aged Jewish mother of teens, I possess a completely different perspective.

As a rabbi, I cannot help but think of the collected wisdom of our ancient sages, who advise caution when judging others. Three ethical teachings from Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Mishnah, spring to mind:

“Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.” (1:6)

“Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.” (2:4)

“Let your fellow’s honor be as dear to you as your own.” (2:10)

As a human being who has felt she is the “other,” I want to join their conversation and share my views with them. But I know that I cannot.

I don’t mind, really. I love eavesdropping. I learn a lot by eavesdropping.

Later, when I go home to consult my books, I find a teaching of Rabbi Akiva to support my position: “The fence for wisdom is silence.” (Mishnah Avot 3:13)


Comments (5)

Presdient Obama said: Trayvon could have been his son.
He is my President, and he is African American and I am not.
I cannot say: “Trayvon could have been my son”.
I can mourn what I believe is great and horrible miscarriage of JUSTICE.
I cannot be them, and they (as you so clearly expressed) are not me.
so I suppose listening is the best we can do.
One day maybe the dream of Martin Luther King weill be actualized and we will stand side by side ONE NATION.
Just (in the immortal words of Franz Rosenzweig)

I think that listening is the most/best we can do. If we listened more carefully to one another, we might be able to understand one another better & build bridges between people.

I thought this was great thanks! As for the miscarriage of justice…. 6 jurors at least 2 lawyers and a judge came to a verdict. Just because its not what some people feel is justice dosn’t make it a miscarriage. I have to believe they know the whole truth and all the facts better than we do. We just know what the media tells us and I am more than alittle skeptial of them. This was made out to be a racial issue and I really dont think it was. I was an awful miscarriage of judgement for all involved including CNN.

Darren, I don’t disagree with you that we can only know “partial truths,” but I am not as quick to judge the media or the people who were not present at the trial and who are frustrated with the verdict. The bigger issue, as I see it, is that nobody wants to have serious, cool-headed and open conversations about race in this country when there is no “crisis situation” or “tragedy” to force us; so when faced with a hot-issue we resort to name-calling, sound-bites, etc.

Naturally, I am interested in the response of religious leaders to the verdict. Just came across this collection of sermons & reflections, collected by Auburn Seminary:

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