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The worst lesson parents can teach

Children are not born hating (or, for that matter, loving or tolerating). Someone has to teach them, either hatred or compassion.

Tahnee Gonzales and Elizabeth Dauenhauer were arrested on burglary charges after bringing children to take items from the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, Ariz., on March 15, 2018. The two videotaped themselves during the event. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — This is really bad. Multiple levels of bad.

Here is what happened. Two women, Tahnee Gonzales, 32, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, were arrested on Thursday (March 15) after they recorded a video while taking things from the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, Ariz., near Phoenix. They also insulted Islam, which the police said might be considered hate speech.

It gets worse.

They brought three children along with them.

“Look at this mosque, this ugly mosque, here in our backyard in America,” Gonzales said in the video. “This is the infiltration of the Arabic Muslim coming in and destroying America.”

The women can be seen opening an unlocked gate with a “No Trespassing” sign on it, entering a courtyard, collecting pamphlets, removing items from a bulletin board and encouraging the children to do the same.

So, let’s talk.

First, about the nature of hatred. Remember that song in the old musical, “South Pacific”: “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Children are not born hating (or, for that matter, loving or tolerating). Someone has to teach them, either hatred or compassion.

Second, let’s talk about the nature of parenthood.

When Jews pray in memory of their parents, they speak of abba u-mori, “my father/my teacher,” or imi u-morati, “my mother/my teacher.”

The Hebrew word for “parents,” horim, has the echo of “Torah” within it.

To be a parent is to carry a Torah, the Hebrew Bible, into a child’s life.

Recently, a young woman became bat mitzvah in our synagogue. Her mother has been home-schooling her (she will soon attend a “conventional” school).

But, in fact, all homes are also schools.

The Tempe Police Department booking photo from March 15, 2018, of Tahnee Gonzales, one of two women arrested on burglary charges after spouting hate speech while removing items from a Tempe mosque. Gonzales was expected to be fitted with an ankle monitor and released March 16. A status conference in the case is set for March 29. A preliminary hearing is set for April 5. (Tempe Police Department via AP)

The women in our story made their homes into finishing schools for fanaticism.

Third, let’s talk about the nature of America itself.

I am struck by the name of one of the women.

Not Dauenhauer.

No. The other one.


Gonzales railed against Muslims and wished them and their institutions harm because they are insufficiently American for her.

It was not that long ago — in fact, it is true even and especially today — that home-grown American bigots would have also considered this woman’s name and ethnic background insufficiently American.

While Pesach (Passover) is coming, I am still hung up on the Jewish holiday of Purim, and on the character of its archvillain, the genocidal despot Haman.

Haman had complained to King Ahasueurus about the Jews of Persia. “There is a certain people … whose laws are not the same as our laws.” The Jews were the quintessential “other” within Persian society and therefore, according to Haman, intolerable.

Which is interesting, because Haman himself was an Agagite, and no more a “real” Persian than Mordecai or Esther. Quite often, the hater himself or herself comes from a group that is not the “real deal” in the country of origin.

As Hitler was, for example, not really a German, but an Austrian.

My first emotion, upon reading the story of this woman and her hateful curriculum, was deep anger.

But, that anger soon migrated over into profound sadness,  sadness about how the moral aspect of parenthood had become so corrupted.

Perhaps we now understand the real reason behind the oft-repeated biblical commandment — to love the stranger, “because you were strangers in Egypt.” The experience of slavery should serve as a moral university for the Jews. We take our very otherness and integrate it into our beings.

That otherness, theoretically, inspires us to activism on behalf of the least-loved of society. At the very least, that otherness should inoculate us against the temptation to hate.

Pesach (Passover) is coming. In Jewish households, seder preparations are now underway.

I have a homework assignment for Jewish parents and grandparents — and even, blessedly, great-grandparents.

This year, at the seder, read that story to the children. Talk about what it means to be trapped in an Egypt of the soul.

And then, remind the children in your family why we are forbidden to hate strangers.