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Ki Teze: August 26, 2018

Rabbi Konigsburb

Shabbat Shalom

At the very end of last week, we received the sad news that the singer, Aretha Franklin had died. She had earned the title, “The Queen of Soul” through her amazing range of musical hits that pointed to this honor. Her anthem, the song that was most prominent in her repertoire, the song that was well known to all her fans, was her version of a song written by Otis Redding, entitled “Respect".


What you want

Baby, I got it

What you need

Do you know I got it? 

All I'm askin'

Is for a little respect when you get home

Hey baby when you get home 


I ain't gonna do you wrong while you're gone

Ain't gonna do you wrong 'cause I don't wanna

All I'm askin' 

Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit) 

Baby when you get home


When Otis Redding wrote the song, he sang it as a man coming home after a hard day’s work. Aretha turned the song around and made it an anthem to women, who worked at home all day and their husbands didn’t understand or even “respect” all that their wives had done during the day. I remember a cartoon from that time, with a pollster at the door speaking to a woman who replied, “Of course I am a working mother, is there any other kind?”


But Aretha did not limit the song to a husband and wife. Called to the streets during the Civil Rights era, as well as the years in which we argued over feminism, Aretha’s anthem took on new meaning. It seems that all anyone was asking for, in those turbulent years, was a little bit of respect. Blacks, women, even young people in high school and college wanted a bit of respect as they turned out for causes that were important to shaping a new society in this country.


Oh sure, even in those days there were some who were looking for restitution, for affirmative action, those who wanted to step immediately to the pinnacles of power in this country, but most of those protesting really were only asking for some respect from the white majority of our country, at that time, who, more often then not, saw African Americans, women and children as invisible and inconsequential.


It is no surprise that, as African Americans, women and young people began to earn the respect that they craved, that others, equally disrespected and invisible, demanded the respect of society as well. Who would want to be identified as the lowest member of society, the punch line of every joke and ignored by anyone of importance? Asians, immigrants, LGBTQ, and those who suffer economic disadvantage now demand respect. On the horizon are convicted felons who have served their time; they are also demanding our respect. Where will it stop? When no member of our open society is denied. When all people are seen to be deserving of our time, attention and our respect.


And we are not talking about the kind of respect that gang members are always looking for. In the world of criminal gangs, one invites death if you don’t show the gang leader proper respect. Disrespect can literally get you shot. Among gangs, respect is earned by a ruthless ascent to become leader of the mob.


This respect is very different. It means making eye contact without fear. It means taking a moment to wish someone a “good morning” or a “hello”. It means being treated fairly in business, in housing, in customer service and in social settings. The entire Black Lives Matter movement is a part of our community looking to have the same respect on the street that most of us receives from law enforcement and from the criminal justice system. All that anyone of any minority group wants is the same privileges that we have. Nothing more. All they’re asking for is a little respect.


I remember a story I heard when they got around to integrating my High School in Florida. There was a discussion in a classroom about what to call the new student who was going to be joining the class. Was she “Afro-American? Black? Negro? They decided to ask her when she arrived. As she took her seat the teacher asked her what she would like to be called. She looked at the teacher and said, “Call me Mary.” I once heard a group of immigrants who started speaking in Spanish suddenly stop and switch to English because it was rude to speak in Spanish when English speakers were present.


Is this so hard? Giving to those individuals associated with a minority culture of this country a little respect when we see them, meet them, interact with them? Is that asking too much from the rest of us? Apparently, it is too much for some people. Apparently, some people look down on others and just can’t show them a little respect. How do I know this? Because we keep having conversations about how hard it is, how silly it is, how dumb it is to be “politically correct” all the time. What is this “political correctness” that these people are annoyed about? These people are asking society for permission to speak rudely and with disrespect to someone else. It is asking for permission from society to not bother to learn what someone else wants and needs to be a respected member of society.


I get it; it is annoying to have to learn how to talk to people differently. I understand that it is hard to keep up with the ever-expanding dictionary of proper names to be used when we speak with members of any minority in this country. And if we were to use the wrong terms, we find that our words are not taken seriously and using the wrong term can make us look ignorant or foolish. I know it is frustrating. I don’t like getting reminded that there is a new term to be used when speaking about a minority; but I do it anyway. If that is what someone wants to be called in proper society, then I have to have the R-E-S-P-E-C-T to learn and use the right name.


It is the height of disrespect that, even when we are just speaking with friends, even when nobody from the outside is listening, that we use pejorative language as if the private conversation gives us the right to demonstrate our prejudice. It is understandable that one might speak properly in public but “let their guard down” in private. This is not a good approach. Our outsides need to match our insides. It is impossible to show respect in public if we have little respect for others in private. It is just not fair to others and not fair to ourselves.


“All I’m asking for is a little respect when you get home”. It is astonishing that some people can’t bring themselves to show a little respect to others. We need to be better than that. It is essential that we be politically correct and call others by their respectful titles. It is important that we don’t denigrate others by denying them their respect in their everyday lives. It is critical that we train ourselves to not make fun of others, no matter where they seem to fall on the social ladder; we must treat everyone with proper respect.


In 1967, Aretha Franklin just sang about a woman who wanted some respect from her man. It soon became an anthem for all the disrespected of society. Now, in 2018, over 50 years later, there are people trying to steal respect from others, denigrating those who believe that it is important to love your neighbor as yourself, calling such people, with a voice dripping with cynicism, “politically correct.”


There is a reason that we call public discourse – polite conversation. It is because we show our respect in how we speak about others. There is never any excuse for being unkind, uncaring and rude. All I am asking for is a little respect …


May God grant us the understanding to be respectful of the stranger, the foreigner and those who are different. For blessing belongs to the kind, as we say….

Amen and Shabbat Shalom


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, August 26, 2018.

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779