“It pains me,” said Rabbi Goldberg, “to see young people in Israel marching with a sign saying Death to Arabs. Where do they get such hate?”
We were talking in a quiet Washington hotel lobby. He was in town to speak in a seminar on political divides and the hate it generates.
“So many of our poems and movies are about love,” he said. “Our religions talk a lot about love. One of them goes to the length of saying, ‘Three things last forever, faith, hope and love, and of these the greatest is love.’”
“But,” he continued, “what we seem to see much of the time is its opposite – hate. There is explicit, rabid hate or there is controlled and covert hate. It is hate all the same. Utter repulsion and rejection of the other person. Total aversion for the other side, their creed or country, their party or principles, their values or even their value as human beings. Some want to see them stamped out, eliminated.”
Rabbi Goldberg sipped his tea and said, “Of all types of hate, surely the most hateful is religious hate. For it is the most pretentious and hypocritical. We pretend to act on behalf of a loving God, but spew hatred against other children of God. We pretend to do good for society and we do the most abominable things. We pretend to stand up for noble principles and we do ignoble, unprincipled acts.”
Clearly, the terrorist violence in Mumbai bothered him, for he knows the city well and felt close to its Chabad center. He recounted the dozen coordinated bombs of 1993, the bombing of markets and bus stations in 2003 and the murderous railway bombs of 2006, all by Muslim groups. He understood the impatience of Indians who wanted strong punitive action, not only against Pakistan but against all groups in India they suspected of sympathy for such brutality. He mentioned the friends he had among people who had to leave their homes in West or East Pakistan and seek refuge on Indian soil – and restart life painfully.
“Where do we go from here? Are surgical or massive responses the answer?” he asked. He quoted the Hasidic leader Kotzker Rebbe: peace is only when you let it in.
He believed the divide between India and its biggest neighbor could be bridged and the initiative had to come from India. It had the resources and people and imagination to do it. And its history and tradition to back it.
I read Sanskrit and it amazed me that Rabbi Goldberg was such a master of the ancient Indian texts to which most Indians give lip service. He cited Gita’s 14th chapter that spoke in the same breath of charity and authority in the role of the warrior.
This is what the people of India had done in the past, accepted and absorbed other cultures and made them part of India’s magnificently varied culture. Occasionally hesitant, but fearless, it had broadened its repertoire of knowledge, art and statecraft, given home to different faiths.
Rabbi Goldberg said, “It pains me that there is a new air of intolerance. A new attitude, endorsed officially, to separate and discriminate against minority groups. A new mentality of Us and They. They can’t be trusted, must be cornered and punished for being different. Now, you draw attacks if you say the Ship of State is going the wrong way – a very dangerous way.”
He had been astonished to find that even young children were being brought up on ahistorical textbooks that denigrate ancient Emperors of a different religion or modern leaders who fought chauvinism and fanaticism in their time. He quoted Krishna’s famous diatribe to Arjuna against ‘demonic inheritance’ and said the country would make a mistake to take that hideous turn and move away from what Krishna had called a ‘divine inheritance.’
“This is not the India I had fallen in love with as a young man,” he said ruefully. “Such hate is a bigger threat to people than a terrorist waving an AK-47.”
Rabbi Goldberg took a last sip of his tea, shook my hand, smiled warmly and shuffled toward his room. I waved goodbye. The lobby was now getting noisier by the minute with the advent of tourists and tired executives on their way to the bar.
Dusk was approaching. I would have loved to have a drink too, but I knew I had to wend my way through heavy downtown traffic. As I drove slowly home, the shimmering last rays of the day seemed a sad reflection of the Rabbi’s forlorn words about love and a lot of hate.