I was sitting in shul last Shabbat morning thinking about the Democratic Socialists of America and their recent convention. Lest you think I’ve totally lost it, let me explain – assuming you have the patience to bear with me. You see, I have a point of personal privilege – or maybe not.
The aforementioned convention, held over the recent July 4th weekend in Atlanta, would have gone completely under my personal radar screen, except that it was so weird that several people felt the need to post videos of conference ‘highlights’ on YouTube. The thought that people with any sense would gather these days under a large picture of Karl Marx is enough to muddle my brain and make me wonder if I were in a time warp. (Remember the 1950’s in Israeli kibbutzim, when they had knock-down-drag-out fights about whether to remove Stalin’s picture from the dining halls.) But that’s what happened.
I can imagine Vladimir Ilyich Lenin rolling over in his mausoleum in downtown Moscow at the thought of these delegates calling each other ‘comrade.’ If we consider the Bolshevik leader to be truly ruthless, how should we describe these (mostly) young would-be revolutionaries? (Maybe, ‘ruthful?’) I wondered why they were constantly moving their hands in the air, doing a miniature ‘wave,’ and then I figured it out. That’s their way of clapping their hands silently, in deference to those comrades who would be overcome by the clamor if everyone applauded in the usual manner. At one point, a delegate got up with a ‘point of personal privilege’ to remind everyone to keep their chit-chatting to a minimum because it was creating a sensory overload for him. (There was an alternative: somewhat later, another delegate mentioned that there were ‘safe rooms’ available: where delegates could watch the proceedings without any sound or where one could simply hide out, if the task of creating a socialist government proved to be too overwhelming.)
It wasn’t just this one delegate with his ‘point of personal privilege.’ Delegate after delegate rose to a ‘point of order,’ a ‘point of information,’ or a ‘point of (personal) privilege,’ so that even approving the Rules Committee report proceeded at glacial speed. It reminded me of the union meetings I had to attend back in the old days when I was a shop steward in a public employees union. But, unlike these earnest young things, we had to be familiar with the real Robert’s Rules of Order, whereby a point of information was to ask a question, not to explain to everyone how to speak into the microphone, and a point of personal privilege could be invoked only to respond to a previous speaker who had mentioned you in his/her comments. It wasn’t, point of personal privilege, it’s too warm in here.
But supposing you could do that, to complain if something was upsetting you. For example, last Shabbat in shul. (You knew I would get back to that, didn’t you?) With the new seating arrangement, there is now someone sitting behind my left ear, and on this occasion, there was a guest sitting behind my right ear. Both of them were davening too loud, one in a Sephardic drone and the other in an Ashkenazic mumble. Then there’s someone else who has his two young children. They are both very well behaved, but they’re kids, and they’re eating and going in and out. All of the above, the droning and the mumbling and the eating and the running back and forth, is real sensory overload for me. Suppose I could get up and complain, point of personal privilege, there’s too much going on around me; make them stop! Or, point of personal privilege, the guy up there needs to daven faster so I can be home by 10AM. Or, point of personal privilege, somebody opened the window and there’s a draft and the pages of my siddur keep turning on their own.
How cool would that be if we could all do that in real life. Point of personal privilege; the guy sitting next to me on the bus needs to change his shirt. Point of personal privilege; the woman in front of me at the checkout counter has twenty items, and she’s in the express lane. Point of personal privilege……. You get the idea. The thing is, whom would you be complaining to, and, even better, who would be listening? This is Israel, remember? It’s not a Socialist convention. The sad, unvarnished truth is that, for us, there is no personal privilege that we can point to. We don’t even get a safe room to hide in – unless someone is sending rockets our way. We’d better just suck it up and get along with our lives. That’s all the ‘privilege’ we’re allowed. But that is something, after all.