Glenn Beck -- a man whose sole purpose seems to be to stir up hatred -- has now taken on Reform Jews, of which I am one. Dismissing us as similar to "radicalized Islam," he went on to sum up our rabbis as "generally political in nature." So there you go -- a summary of an historic religion reduced to a soundbite by Brother Beck.
Sure, organizations are up in arms. The Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Funds for Justice have expressed their outrage at his ongoing battle with Jews and, in particular, equating Reform Judaism to radical extremism. And in my corner of Northern Virginia, congregants at Temple Rodef Shalom have kept the listserv buzzing today. But the rest of the country has been largely silent. What if Oprah had said all Mormons were polygamists? What if Anderson Cooper had said something disparaging about Catholics? (By the way, Beck was born into the former faith and has assumed the latter.)
I was born into Reform Judaism, and have always considered it a religion and not a political affiliation. The clergy have provided comfort, led us in prayer, helped celebrate life events and taught me about the history of my faith. Occasionally, they have also talked about war and politics and social action in the same way I have heard those issues discussed by Episcopalians or Lutherans or yes, even Catholics. Did anything ever come up that was in any way akin to radical extremism? No, not even close.
But Glenn Beck isn't interested in telling the truth. He is an entertainer who finds his followers like to get whipped into a frenzy. The truth doesn't often produce frothing at the mouth. But there are consequences to using lies to incite people. Words matter, and -- in the hands of someone as ignorant and bullying as Glenn Beck -- can dehumanize large groups of people. He can throw up his hands in surprise when and if something tragic occurs but he and Rupert Murdoch will ultimately be to blame if his hate-filled rants result in violence.
We cannot boycott Beck because most reasonable people don't listen to him anyway. But we can and should continue to speak out with the truth. Judaism is a religion, a history, an ancestry which makes me incredibly proud. Some of my relatives perished at the hands of the Nazis, and others fled their homes because of pogroms in their villages. My family has lived in the U.S. for five generations now, worshiping freely.
Someone in the congregation pointed out that Journalist Daniel Pearl's final words before he was executed by Al-Qaeda were, "My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish. My family follows Judaism." Perhaps the antidote to Glenn Beck's spewing hatred is for all Americans, of all faiths, to repeat those words. If enough people spoke these words of solidarity and affirmation, we could surely drown out the rantings of one schmuck.