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Put a Little Love in Your Heart: Jewish Wisdom for Global Healing

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When my kids were in kindergarten, they sang the song, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and it has became a family song ever since. We usually do it as a joke, as they were quite cute and had some fun dance moves to go with it, but as I sat down to craft something to say about human rights and Judaism, I kept coming back to this song. I kept coming back to the basic thought that love is what makes our world possible in the face of great challenge, that love is what makes living tolerable when we see injustice and poverty and slavery and human rights violations.

"Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, put a little love in your heart. You see its getting late, please don't hesitate, put a a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place, for you and me, just wait and see."

This can be seen as naive, childish and silly, but is it? Was it naive, childish and silly for Dr. King to say that light will overcome the darkness, that only love can overcome hate? If we believe in the power of love, in the truly transformative power of love in our world, than anything is possible. I believe that, even as I struggle to live it. I believe that even in the face of cynicism and disbelief. And I think that is what the Torah is all about, what Judaism is all about, what life is truly all about.

While the song is cute, the idea of love in our hearts is a serious one. And I see it as directly related to human rights. I decided not to write about a specific campaign, a specific policy, a specific human rights abuse, but rather about the underlying scrooge behind each of them, whether it is spoken or not: When we don't see the other as a human being, as another living being created in the image of God, then slavery in the tomato fields in Florida is possible; then ignoring genocide is possible; then injustice toward women is possible. All of the great philosophers and thinkers of many religious traditions seem to say the same thing, namely that when we see the face of God in the other, we act in more compassionate, loving ways. When we don't, we either ignore injustice or perpetrate injustice because the victims are not seen as humans, but rather as what Martin Buber called "it." Relating to human beings as an "it" rather than as a "thou" offers us a mask behind which we can hide. I was thinking about this as a reality in our world, one in which we classify people by how much they can produce, what socioeconomic class they are in, how much we can separate ourselves from them as people. Yet, the Torah, in many different places, tells us that this is precisely what we must battle against in order to have a healthy, fair, balanced society.

Many of the prayers in the Jewish liturgy are about love, including the first paragraph of the Shema, our central prayer, which begins, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might."

Love is essential to healing, love is essential to fairness, love is essential to creating the world we want. My whole focus on this changed when I had the chance to hear two leaders from the Jerusalem Peacemakers, Rabbi Eliyahu McClean and Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, who are on a speaking tour of the United States, sharing their work in trying to bridge the gap, in a small way, between Israelis and Palestinians. I assume that, like me, people came to hear policy analysis, insights into how to solve the conflict, something about what we read in the news. However, that is precisely what they didn't talk about. They told us how their work is based on the fundamental aspect of love and compassion that needs to be built between people, all people. They talked about how they both, individually, came to the realization that finding God in the world necessitates us to be involved with others who are not like us. We find God in ourselves by knowing the other. And, unlike the philosophers, be it Buber, Levinas, Heschel, they are actually doing this work on the ground, between people, one to one. They talked about creating a space where people can listen to one another, learn about one another, care about each other not as Israelis and Palestinians but as people, mothers, fathers, children, human beings. They do something called the Jerusalem Hug, where hundreds of people encircle the Old City, holding hands, and hug Jerusalem. This is their fifth year. Is this going to solve the conflict? Obviously not. But it is going to make a difference in the lives of those participating, which included Arabs and Jews, Israeli soldiers, settlers and secular folks, people just walking by and being moved to join in. Their group went and prayed in Hebron together, at the Cave of the Patriarchs -- Jew, Christian and Muslim.

Creating the space of love, putting a little love in their heart, that is the essence of their group. Is it naive, silly, childish? To me it is no more naive, silly or childish than Leviticus 19 telling us to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Human rights is not an issue to solve, it is a way of life to embrace.

So, what can we do in our lives, right now?

"You see its getting late, please don't hesitate, put a little love in your heart." Simple adages, pithy slogans, fortune cookie wisdom, the Torah itself: all are places that trying to inspire us humans to act different, to be different, to live different, put a little love in your heart. Prayer is about cultivating that love, about reminding ourselves of what matters, about making ourselves known to God. "Don't hold a grudge ... don't hate your brother or sister in your heart ... love your neighbor as yourself." The Jubilee year, the sabbatical year, the release of debts and slaves. While it is not clear if these Torah laws were ever implemented, it is clear that they are ideals to strive for, ideals to seek, holiness to action.

We need to know each other more closely, not just in generalities. We need to reach out, push ourselves out of our comfort zones to meet those who we see as "different," thereby putting a face, a heart, a soul to a group. That is how all hatred is to be overcome, that is how we will begin to battle back against the innumerable human rights abuses we see in the world. Could it be as simple as loving more? Surely can't hurt. We can start by listening to the song, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart."