“None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.” This great quote by Benjamin Whichcote was forwarded to me by my son Simcha as he referred to a particularly self-centered person in the news. Sometimes I wonder if I’m guilty of the same.
Two weeks ago, I did not write an article for the Queens Jewish Link. But there were two letters, which I had not seen in advance of publication, about my previous article with the title “Buyer’s Remorse?”
One letter, while declaring his general support for my political positions, was quite critical of my writing that if it were up to me, refusing to be vaccinated should be criminalized, unless for documented medical reasons. The writer gave an impressive list of facts about Dr. Fauci and how he has misled the public by not reporting vital COVID data, creating the myth that the vaccine is critical to COVID-19 prevention. It is not my intent to argue with the writer at this time, so I won’t.
The author of the second letter, responding to the main theme of my article, was surprised that I did not recognize some of the great accomplishments of President Biden, such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill. If the writer can single that dubious achievement as Biden’s great accomplishment, I think it only serves to underscore my point that the Biden administration has little else to claim for itself in all other arenas.
As I read these letters, I think to myself, I am totally unimpressed. They may be 100 percent correct in what they maintain, but I remain convinced of my positions. Despite all the facts and emotions that they can throw at me, I remain unmoved.
Am I wrong? Am I too “filled with myself” that I am too stubborn to even consider another opinion?
I think that’s the way people are in general. We write seething, well-documented letters to the editor, convinced that we will score a point and educate the other side. Rarely, however, does it make a difference. The “other side” will remain dug in, no matter what.
When I write articles, I am hopeful that I reach people. Judging from the feedback, I know that I do. But how many people have I convinced to agree with my way of looking at things? How many have switched political or hashkafah/religious ideals because of something I write?
There is one Modern Orthodox organization to whom I’ve written their leadership on a constant basis with pointed questions about why they remain silent on important matters, and why they don’t become more proactive with other matters. It has reached the point that I am told that they view me as a “troublemaker” and refuse to reply to my emails and letters or sit down at a meeting to discuss unity in Orthodoxy with me present. Truthfully, I don’t blame them. For them, I am a troublemaker, since I disturb their comfortable “behind the scenes” way of dealing with issues.
But how can I convince myself that I’m right? Letter writers – and I include myself – feel accomplished by expressing their firmly held convictions. We are sure we scored points on our subject. Yet everyone remains unchanged. Maybe previously held beliefs are reinforced by a good article or letter, but minds rarely change. Pro-vaxxers will remain pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers will remain anti-vaxxers. Liberals will remain liberals and conservatives will remain conservatives (although it looks like the country just may be waking up to the perils of extreme liberalism).
The way I judge the matter is to observe the test of time. Those of us on the right were opposed to the Oslo Accords, the Gaza Disengagement, and the Iranian Nuclear Deal. How have they worked out? We favored the Abraham Accords, which did not submit to terrorists. How has that worked out?
We were opposed to the leftist economy and the social agenda. We were unhappy with LGBTQ and where it was leading. We were opposed to BLM and its woke overtones. We were concerned for the plight of Black lives, but not because of any radical agenda that ignored the plight of thousands of Blacks being killed in the inner cities. We were fearful that wanton abortion would cheapen the value of human life. We were opposed to no bail and other liberal policies soft on crime. We were vehemently opposed to defunding the police.
We feared that liberalism would lead to the acceptance of anti-Zionist (anti- Semitic) rhetoric. We were concerned that “Affirmative Action” would disincentivize the minority community from working and be a threat to the nuclear family.
As for being pro-vaccine, here is where I part company with many conservatives. I look at the plight of those who have been vaccinated and those who have not. Yes, vaccinated people are getting the new variant of COVID, but how are they faring as opposed to those who have not? Who is getting seriously ill and who is not? Is this not worth mandating for public health – yours and mine?
Yes, and voting for President Biden. You be the judge.
True, few of us change our outlook on things because of a strongly written letter to the editor or a scathing editorial. But put your positions to the test of time. The results may surprise you.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.