Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

If Fighting For Inclusion, Practice What You Preach

Breaking the middle matzo is a traditional part of the Passover Seder.

Breaking the middle matzo is a traditional part of the Passover Seder. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

I'd like to have a word about respecting difference. If you listened to Friday's program, you may have caught the segments we aired on the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts Monday evening. We had a fun chat about what to do with any leftover matzo, the unleavened bread that plays a central role in the holiday, especially in the traditional Seder meal.

But we set the table, if you will, with a "Passover primer," for which we called on Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom, the "National Synagogue" in Washington, D.C., who visits with us from time to time to tell us more about Jewish traditions and observances.

Well, it turns out that there was more to tell.

After our conversation, Rabbi Herzfeld let me know that he had sued the Washington, D.C., Board of Elections and Ethics over a special election scheduled for April 26 to fill seats on the D.C. City Council and school board.

April 26 is the last day of Passover, and observant Jews are not permitted to write or initiate electronic activity on such a day, at least not until 8:40 p.m. in our part of the world, when the holiday officially ends. So Rabbi Herzfeld had written to the election board, not to ask them to change the day of the election, mind you, but to ask it to hold open the polls until 10 p.m. — just two hours later than scheduled — to allow those who wished to vote the opportunity to do so.

The city said no, so the rabbi filed suit.

Can I just tell you? It is amazing to me that at the very moment the city's leaders are complaining about being steamrolled by Congress on a couple of hot-button issues — because D.C. residents, although they pay federal taxes, do not have a vote in Congress (an issue I talked about in last week's commentary) — that other city officials are so insensitive to the voting rights of a group of people simply because it is inconvenient.

Or maybe I should say I am amazed, but not surprised.

It seems to be that there is no shortage of hypocrisy when it comes to diversity. Conservatives like to pretend they don't care about diversity, especially not racial diversity, but anybody who is paying attention cannot help but notice that they are quick to push their nontraditional candidates and public figures to the front of the photo op. (And we can all think of examples.)

This is not to say these folks are not qualified for whatever task they are being enlisted to do. Let's just say that in a big country like this one, there is rarely one indispensible man or woman, and conservatives, no less than any others, have learned the value of having their message carried by unexpected people.

But liberals, or progressives, if you will, have their own issues with diversity, not the least of which is that they are sometimes unwilling to admit how uncomfortable, how inconvenient, how annoying it can be sometimes to accommodate people who are different. We are going to see more of this.

In many urban areas now, Latino and Asian populations have increased dramatically, according to new census figures — Latinos most of all, while the numbers of white and black residents are stagnant or declining.

We see friction as these groups rub up against each other. But too often what I see are people pretending that friction isn't there or that it will go away, or they just go and withdraw altogether, rather than face it and negotiate it. And I think this is particularly true when people are, or believe themselves to be, beleaguered.

I can see how a lot of people feel like they have enough problems of their own and have no time for anybody else's. But there is no other choice but to make time, especially when you want other people to make time for your problems, which is exactly the case in this city.

With just over half a million residents and little or no voice in national affairs, this city's leaders need other people to care about their problems even though it's inconvenient. So it seems the least they can do is to care about the voting rights of a minority when it's inconvenient, which is pretty much what the federal judge told them on Friday. His suggestion: to extend early voting hours to Easter Sunday, which is next Sunday, and that the board agreed to do.

So somebody's going to be working on Easter Sunday.

There's clearly a lesson in this: We can spend some time minimizing other people's discomfort, or get ready to experience more of our own.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues