One of the columns I wish I did not have to write is an obituary of someone who was important to the community and with whom I had personal relationships. My goal is twofold: giving proper respect to the deceased, and making sure that their life work is known and appreciated. Also, I want their family to know that we cared about their loved one and hope the column helps them deal with their loss.
Clearly, the latter did not occur with my column about Jan Fenster. I made two key errors for which I want to publicly apologize. I thought that only her brother was present at the funeral. In fact, her sister and other relatives were present as well. The family should be aware of the comments I received from non-family members thanking me for writing about Jan, and should take comfort from the article written by Shabsie Saphirstein and the ad placed by the Queens Jewish Community Council. I know of many others who wanted to publish or send comments to the family to show their appreciation of the great things that Jan accomplished.
I would now like to address a different topic. This past week, the Queens Jewish Link had their annual networking event, where they also gave kudos to the columnists. This year, to my knowledge, the only columnists who were present were Moshe Hill and myself. Anyone who reads our columns know that Moshe and I disagree even more often than Rabbi Schonfeld and I disagree. However, just as I have a good relationship with Rabbi Schonfeld, I have tried to have a good relationship with Moshe when I see him at the events. This year, we had a nice talk where we agreed on many more issues than one would expect. One important issue we do agree on is that it is wrong to demonize those who you disagree with. People can disagree but should be civil to one another. Also, it is wrong to tell someone to disassociate with a person because of their political views. To demonstrate this point, we took a picture together. We did it last year, but it was part of a big group picture.
It was not the only picture I was in. While other pictures were being taken, it came to my attention that some people were wary about who they would be photographed with. This is very unfortunate. It’s insulting to the person who wants to be in the photo with you if you say that you do not want to be a picture with them or engage in conduct that clearly sends that message. Unless the person is evil, then basic dignity indicates be that you should be in the picture. To those who see the picture, I ask: How would you feel if someone walked away when you came over to join the picture or refused to take a picture with you? The fact that the person in the picture may be a political opponent should not be a reason to be upset with others in the picture.
Moshe and I had a talk about decency and civility even among those with differing views. Here is an easy way to prove the point: I think it would send a strong message if all opponents in an election are in one picture. That would send the message that although we may have different views and are vying for the same job, we also respect each other. If we can start locally, maybe this aura of respect will spread across the country and up in Albany. I look forward to the day when no one is afraid to be in a picture because of retribution.