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88http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/03/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---03_16_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 03_16_2012
03/14/2012 11:37 AM Posted by:

From the Desk Rabbi David Lyon
March 16, 2012

 

This year, I’ve been traveling more than usual. It’s not my preference, but it’s happened that way for business and pleasure. I have great respect for those who travel regularly. Your routine must depend on precision timing: arrive at the airport, go through security, pick up your coffee and head to the gate for premier access to your upgraded seat.

                Recently, while returning from Chicago to Houston, I followed my own routine at the airport, although it didn’t include an upgraded seat. After security, I made my way directly to the gate to board on time. While hurrying down the terminal corridor, I saw a young mother with two children in tow and a large baby bag thrown over her shoulder. She had stopped in the middle of the corridor to focus on something at her children’s feet. As I drew closer, I saw that she or her child had dropped their McDonald’s soda cup. It spilled all over the floor. I stopped and asked her if I could help her with anything at all. She looked up from the wet floor and said, “No, but thank you.” Glancing towards the gate opposite her, she added, “Looks like we made it to the gate. We’ll be okay.” If I had had more time I would have bought her a drink to replace the one she spilled.

                As I continued on my way, I hesitated just to look around the gate where the young mother stopped with her children. The gate was full of people and the corridor was busy. No one else, not a single person, attempted to help this mother. I wasn’t the first one who was able to help her. By the time I arrived her soda had already begun to spread in all directions. Someone could have helped her before I got to her. But, who? Not the men and women safeguarding their seats at the gate and their carry-on bags. Not the fast walkers who were too busy to notice. And, not the airport personnel who failed to stop and lend a hand.

                After I boarded the plane and contorted myself into the seat, I began to think about that woman and her children. I thought about the sacred texts in all the faith traditions that tell us about helping our neighbors and loving them like we love ourselves. Surely, there are many examples of travelers who do come to the aid of others, but a mother kneeling on the floor while balancing a diaper bag on her shoulder, with two small kids standing in sticky soda should have prompted a rush of helpers from their seats. I don’t fault humanity; that would be disproportionate to the crime. But, I do fault the humanity of the system we find ourselves navigating at the airport, today. It brings out the worst in us. At security, we’re dehumanized as we undress before each other and stand like criminals for a private picture to be taken of us. At the gates, we’re rushed and crowded onto planes and charged for any convenience whatsoever. It’s no wonder we can’t love others as we love ourselves; from the moment we enter the airport, we loathe ourselves and the trouble we suffer to get where we’re going. I admit that the happiest moment for me is when I can reclaim my baggage and my humanity at the same time.

                Talk about long hauls and terrible conditions, this week in the synagogue we finish reading the book of Exodus. The Israelites traversed hundreds of miles under trying conditions and with wavering faith. Now, after thousands of years, we can travel farther, faster; but shouldn’t we be able to do it without hunger, thirst, and suffering? Perhaps we can learn from the words we say upon the closing of Exodus and the opening of Leviticus, “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazeik” be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other. As I think of the woman in the airport, and the times we’ve been in similar circumstances, these words speak volumes about how to be a human being in places where our humanity is challenged. Given the suffering in our world, O’Hare is the last place we should complain about; but, the lessons are everywhere. We have to look around our selves and lend a hand. Then we may all go from strength to strength.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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