What could I possibly write today that wouldn’t be outdated by tomorrow? It’s a small world? Six or less degrees of separation?
Ok, here’s one. A woman named Suzanne Barakat works at San Francisco General. She’s a doctor, doing her family practice residency. I worked at SF General for 18 years, retiring in 2003 when Suzanne was 16 years old. I don’t know how that’s possible. 2003 was just a minute ago.
San Francisco General Hospital (even if it is now called Zuckerberg General) was and is an extraordinary place. Working shoulder to shoulder with one’s work mates is a bit like being on the battlefield together. Not a war, just a big field hospital, kind of in the trenches.You see with eyes others don’t, and you see it all. Before SF General I worked at St. Luke’s Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Children’s Hospital and California Pacific Medical Center. I also worked at Letterman’s Hospital in the Presidio.
San Francisco General was definitely the best of all these. We used to have T-shirts which read, “SF General, As real as it gets” and it was. The hospital community (staff and patients) was woven through and through with every race, ethnicity, language, age, citizenry, refugee status, socio-economic, gender, and sexual orientation status, etc you could ever imagine. SF General was ground zero of fighting the AIDS epidemic. It also serves the homeless, drug-addicted and mentally ill of the City. No one gets turned away, and at least in the clinic where I worked, everyone got treated with deep respect and kindness. So when someone says they work at SF General, I know we are at least one degree less of separation.
Like me and Suzanne. We definitely might have known each other had I not been 40 years older than her.
Oh, and did I say I am Jewish? Oh, and did I say Suzanne is Muslim and wears a hijab? Have you also noticed the anti-semitism leaking out of the Trump campaign not-so-subtly the last few weeks after a year of blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric?
A Jewish friend of mine posted a TED talk on Facebook yesterday saying “Erev elections” (election eve): a good time to remember the critical importance of supporting our Muslim neighbors, colleagues, friends. OUR VOTES MATTER.”
So I clicked on the TED talk. And man oh man, was I blown away. By the depth of Suzanne’s sincerity, sorrow, humility, courage, tolerance (for us), and compassion.
I share her firm belief that no one should be treated badly (and/or murdered) for being who they are. I share her belief that it is right and just to speak up for others who are being verbally or physically harmed. Her reverence for life and kindness is in her every word and gesture.
Jews lived for centuries being the outsider, the refugee, the illegal immigrant, the despised, the scapegoat. The late San Francisco Rabbi Alan Lew said that because of our history we Jews should always be on the side of the dispossessed, the refugee and immigrant. He walked his talk and participated in countless demonstrations to support the homeless and immigrants in San Francsco. His words and commitment to practicing what he preached made a deep impression on me. To my Jewish mind, God didn’t care about all the this’s and that’s of life. She cares about how we treat each other.
The establishment of the state of Israel was an attempt to change the script of our own centuries of dispossession and victimhood. If Europe didn’t want us, maybe the Middle East would. Well… not really.
Complicated by Israel’s (as I see it) PTSD-based military aggressiveness, it has managed to create the “other” it itself once was in its Palestinian population. This pains me deeply, and it is another story.
Are you following me? I’m saying, even setting Israel and Palestine aside for a minute, it’s complicated, and I have no solutions, except for what Rabbi Lew said, what the Dalai Lama teaches, and what Suzanne Barakat speaks of in this video.
Xenophobic hatred has been stirred by the far Right, by the Republican party, by Fox news, Donald Trump, and Breitbart news. An attempt is made over and over to re-write history, by telling one Big Lie after another. It has worked remarkably well in this campaign year. Millions have bought the lie in direct opposition to their own best interests. The rest of us have been gob-smacked by the resonance from pre-Hitler Germany. No matter who wins, this will be an important part of our work going forward, to un-do this hatred and bigotry, to not stand silently by.
Some things we could say today may or may not ring true tomorrow. Tonight we are crossing a moment in time whose ramifications are enormous. Where we land tomorrow as a nation and a people is unsettlingly unknown.
Suzanne’s voice, however will be just as true tomorrow. Sadly. Profoundly. It is so important that we hear it. And that’s why I’m offering it as my blog post this week, today, election day.
Wishing us all a tremendous and clear victory for Hillary tonight. For the well-being of all beings. May it be so.