Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

What would Fred Rogers have thought about Ford v. Kavanaugh?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh gives an emotional opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sept. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool Image via AP)

You will forgive me if I seem to be obsessed with Fred Rogers. I wrote about him last week.

Let me go one step further.

Let me reflect on the reflect on the arbah minim, the four species of plants, the sacred bouquet that we wave and shake during the festival of Sukkot.

The aravah – the willow. The hadas – the myrtle. The lulav – the palm branch. The etrog – the etrog.

The ancient sages liked to teach that each of those species represents a different part of the body.

The leaves of the willow resemble the lips.

The leaves of the myrtle resemble the eyes.

The lulav represents the spine.

The etrog represents the heart.

Fred Rogers had lips – lips that smiled incessantly, lips that taught. The book of Proverbs refers to this thing called Torat chesed – the law of kindness, the teaching of kindness, the scroll of kindness. Whatever Torat chesed is, it was on the lips of Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers taught: “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

Fred Rogers had eyes – eyes that tried, under all circumstances, to see the good in people, and the possibility in people, and the hope that was in the world. Fred Rogers taught: “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

Fred Rogers had a spine. Integrating that small wading pool. Standing up to Congress. Those acts took spine. Fred Rogers taught: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

And yes, Fred Rogers had a heart. Fred Rogers taught: “At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

Whatever world Fred Rogers was imagining — that was not the world that we saw yesterday on television.

In Dr. Christine Ford, we saw expressions of courage, diligence, sensitivity, and blistering honesty that will become part of American history.

Let our sons and daughters know of her words, and internalize her words. Let our daughters, in particular, internalize her courage and her ability to speak truth to power.

There is a world that Dr. Ford was describing, and a world that Brett Kavanaugh was defending.

Dr. Ford had been the victim of a world of toxic masculinity and of male privilege.

Whatever else you believe about what happened yesterday, let us stand up for the fact that this is a world view that we need to question, and know that this is a world view – of masculine privilege – that I teach our teenagers how to question as well.

There is a question about Fred Rogers that “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” addresses, and it is a potent and relevant question.

Many people thought that Fred Rogers was gay – to which I would add Seinfeld’s famous addendum to the suspicion: “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Why did they think that he was gay?

Because, in their emotionally and morally crippled estimation, no “real” man could be so kind, so soft, so loving, so sweet. It was not manly. It was not tough.

Whatever world we saw yesterday, embodied and described in Dr. Ford’s testimony of trauma, Fred Rogers imagined a different world.

I invite you to imagine that world with me, and with him.

 

 

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About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.