Last Shabbat I was wearing the button on the right at the kiddush after shul. Over kiddush people will be talking about sports, their children, the weather and even politics. To me, the button is an invitation to political dialog and quite a few people took me up on the implicit offer and asked me about polls, Keynesian economies, the debates, Iran and Israel.
This button was making my life easier since people interested in my opinion would approach me, and I could leave those who would rather not speak about politics alone.
All was going well until a fellow congregant yelled me out for wearing the button. He said "What are you doing?" I didn't know what he was talking about so he continued. "How dare you wear that in the synagogue." I saw he was referring to my button and said I didn't see any problem with that. He raised his volume and threatened me, "If you don't take this off right now. I am going to tell the Rabbi on you."
I'm pretty sure the Rabbi was aware that I was wearing the button since it was reasonably obvious attached to my lapel, so I had nothing to hide. I was conflicted since I believe that freedom of speech and association allows me to express my political opinions. On the other hand, I didn't want to cause a scene with a fellow congregant.
In the end, I backed down and removed the button, but after asking a number of my friends about this situation, I think he was wrong to ask me to remove the button, and I think I was wrong to comply with his request.
This congregant is actually the organizer and moderator of our synagogue's bi-annual candidate forum where our Congressmen and his opponent answer questions of interest to our community. Thus, he certainly has no problem with politics within the walls of the synagogue
I read information across the political spectrum in part because of the duties of my work in finance and my work for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in part because of my research interest in the mathematics of voting, and in part because of my passion for politics and tikkun olam. Accordingly, I have information at my fingertips to respond to many of the questions people raise. Occasionally, someone stumps me on a fine detail of policy or some new event that I haven't researched yet. I especially enjoy the chance to research these new issues and get back to people after Shabbat.
In the past, I may have overstepped my bounds. For example, in 2000, I distributed a note in the sanctuary about how Texas Gov. George W. Bush signed a law preventing synagogues and other places of worship from prohibiting people from bringing concealed handguns onto their premises. However, I have mellowed out over the years, and think that my display of a small button during the kiddush in the social hall after services were over would not interfere with anyone's devotion.
On the contrary, compared to the "Oy Vey Obama" buttons I see worn by members of the RJC, I think my button opened the door to a positive exchange of ideas.
A positive exchange of ideas that unfortunately at least one congregant is trying to stomp out.
I hope he is not successful.
The issues facing our country, Israel and the world are important, so discussion of them is important. I would rather "lose the debate" than not have it in the first place. That would be the real shanda.
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