Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, February 2014
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD
I read a news article recently in which the author complained that people have not been visiting Grant's Tomb.
It reminded me of my student days at the Seminary when I used to love to sit in Riverside Park opposite that handsome memorial to our eighteenth President of the United States. As I reflect on Grant's scandal-ridden and lackluster performance as President, his often coarse attributes of personality, and his objectionable prejudices, I question whether he really deserves the beautiful monument erected in his honor on the banks of the Hudson River. But when you realize that his effective military leadership on the battlefield prevented the secession of the South during the Civil War thereby preserving the Union, and when you stop to think how difficult it is to keep people and organizations together in the face of powerful centrifugal forces, you develop respect and admiration for those who have the “know-how” to prevent the destruction of political entities and groupings.
Hopefully union and unity can be preserved without resorting to force, which is often a futile and counterproductive strategy for promoting harmony between people; but all must surely agree that it requires talents of a most extraordinary kind to get people to live and work together in peace and harmony. The most urgent need of the nation is guidance to eliminate racial and ethnic conflict, to bridge differences between our citizens whether they stem from age, religion, creed, economic status, or the general moral tone of our society. Within our city as well, getting people to relate to each other with an attitude of good will, of “live and let live”, has proven highly complex.
Anyone who has ever been active in a synagogue knows that even in a religious organization it is difficult to overcome personality clashes, individual idiosyncrasies and differences in ideology in order to preserve unity and keep the organization strong. The utmost in tact, diplomacy, wisdom and compassion are an absolute necessity to achieve even a minimum of success.
Nor is peace in the family any easier to attain.
Real or imagined slights often form the basis of the most intense antagonisms which occasionally erupt in violence or in wars of silence that endure for generations.
No, keeping people and groups together is not easy. So I salute you Ulysses S. Grant, for keeping our Union together. May all of us be blessed by friends and leaders who will know how to hold our families, our organizations, our city, our nation, and our world together in peace.