Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

What would Fred Rogers have thought about Ford v. Kavanaugh?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh gives an emotional opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sept. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool Image via AP)

You will forgive me if I seem to be obsessed with Fred Rogers. I wrote about him last week.

Let me go one step further.

Let me reflect on the reflect on the arbah minim, the four species of plants, the sacred bouquet that we wave and shake during the festival of Sukkot.

The aravah – the willow. The hadas – the myrtle. The lulav – the palm branch. The etrog – the etrog.

The ancient sages liked to teach that each of those species represents a different part of the body.

The leaves of the willow resemble the lips.

The leaves of the myrtle resemble the eyes.

The lulav represents the spine.

The etrog represents the heart.

Fred Rogers had lips – lips that smiled incessantly, lips that taught. The book of Proverbs refers to this thing called Torat chesed – the law of kindness, the teaching of kindness, the scroll of kindness. Whatever Torat chesed is, it was on the lips of Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers taught: “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

Fred Rogers had eyes – eyes that tried, under all circumstances, to see the good in people, and the possibility in people, and the hope that was in the world. Fred Rogers taught: “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

Fred Rogers had a spine. Integrating that small wading pool. Standing up to Congress. Those acts took spine. Fred Rogers taught: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

And yes, Fred Rogers had a heart. Fred Rogers taught: “At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

Whatever world Fred Rogers was imagining — that was not the world that we saw yesterday on television.

In Dr. Christine Ford, we saw expressions of courage, diligence, sensitivity, and blistering honesty that will become part of American history.

Let our sons and daughters know of her words, and internalize her words. Let our daughters, in particular, internalize her courage and her ability to speak truth to power.

There is a world that Dr. Ford was describing, and a world that Brett Kavanaugh was defending.

Dr. Ford had been the victim of a world of toxic masculinity and of male privilege.

Whatever else you believe about what happened yesterday, let us stand up for the fact that this is a world view that we need to question, and know that this is a world view – of masculine privilege – that I teach our teenagers how to question as well.

There is a question about Fred Rogers that “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” addresses, and it is a potent and relevant question.

Many people thought that Fred Rogers was gay – to which I would add Seinfeld’s famous addendum to the suspicion: “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Why did they think that he was gay?

Because, in their emotionally and morally crippled estimation, no “real” man could be so kind, so soft, so loving, so sweet. It was not manly. It was not tough.

Whatever world we saw yesterday, embodied and described in Dr. Ford’s testimony of trauma, Fred Rogers imagined a different world.

I invite you to imagine that world with me, and with him.



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


Click here to post a comment

  • This morning Donald Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, tweeted:

    When Republicans vote for Kavanaugh today, it won’t be because they think she was lying. It will be because they don’t care that she was telling the truth.

    I agree with Mr. Schwartz. Republicans have completely abandoned all pretense of caring about truth. For them it’s all about winning, and as long as they have their base behind them to support their votes, truth be damned. In Trump’s America it’s always about “winning,” never mind the cost. Nothing else matters.

    Mr. Rogers would not approve of that. He was guided by objective truth, not “alternative facts.” And he was not concerned about “winning,” (i.e. beating other people) at any cost. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  • Dr. Ford was the victim of a free-floating anxiety which incompetent therapy had helped her affix to an innocent man, who was taken advantage of by rapscallions attempting to bootstrap a #MeToo concoction at her expense for political purposes.

    Richard Blumenthal shamed his faith by disobeying one of the keystones of the Ten Commandments,“Thou shall not bear false witness.” (Exodus 20:13)

  • The objective truth is that a three plus decades old allegation was uncorroborated, unsupported, rejected by suggested witnesses, delivered by an individual who has to get high to get an airplane.

    It was not enough to get a search warrant if the event supposedly took place last week, let alone going on 40 years.

  • A teaching position at Palo Alto University and another at Stanford and she’s the “victim of male privilege”? One can imagine Mr.Rogers diving into a trench at Somme with a smile on his face as he puts on his slippers.

    Dr. Ford did not comport herself in the manner of a doctor. On the other hand, it would be normal for judges to express extreme frustration in the course of duty.

    Jesus faced reality, as he attested to the truth of the written Word. This is the real world folks, I will be beaten to a pulp and crucified on a tree.

    Welcome to the real world Lord, do you understand now why they are better off never being born? Have a nice day and keep smiling.

  • “Dr. Ford did not comport herself in the manner of a doctor. ”

    Character attacks on a witness rather than an evaluation of the testimony given. Typical of apologists of sexual misconduct. Attacking people personally for coming forward, rather than hearing them out.

  • Okay, here is your evaluation:

    She did not remember when the party took place.

    Her “witnesses” did not corroborate her story.

    She could not substantiate her story with any physical evidence.

    She related a variety of longstanding anxiety symptoms, including having to get high to get on an airplane, but did not provide her therapist permission to provide a diagnosis.

    Taken as a whole this could not have provided a reasonable basis for as much as a search warrant.

    Rather than attacking people personally for coming forward, the Republicans treated her with kid gloves, which is more than the Democrats did.

    As to her comporting herself in the manner of a doctor, consider her statement: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

    Whatever her motivation and intent for that statement, let’s be clear: Ford’s claim is ipso facto absurd.

    Nor should one need medical training (which Ford doesn’t have) to recognize that.

    What does it mean to believe that laughter is thus “indelible”?

    Does one have actual access in the implied manner to the hippocampus?

    Ford’s claim is rather like saying, “I have discussed the matter with my lungs, and we agree that I should give up smoking.”

    Get a grip on yourself.

  • At least she answered all the questions – unlike Kacanagh. And given his age, status, experience and public venue, that man has some serious anger management issues. But maybe a reality check on your assertions as to why Ford could not be telling the truth – try talking to people who work with victims of sexual assault and get their take on your objections.

  • Had most males been the victim of this sort of sandbagging smear campaign, they’d make “Kacanaugh” look like the meek and mild.

    In the USA there is a presumption of innocence.

    The question, then, is not “why Ford could not be telling the truth” but “what is the evidence supporting her allegations?”

    Answer: there is none.

    In fact there is nothing to “investigate”.

    I am afraid I need something more than the fact that accuser has a vagina to buy an allegation that does not fit the adult behavior of the accused, appears to have arisen in counseling, and was part of a slimy sandbagging setup by a Senator known for her devious deeds.

  • You obviously know nothing about sexual assault and all the guilt born by the victims. I hope your mother never had to experience such an assault as did mine.

  • You have no business calling yourself objective as you simply support Kacanaugh without regard to truth. I imagine you also support Trump even though the evidence is overwhelming that he too is a sexual predator, liar and sociopath.

  • “Kacanaugh”?

    That’s why you haven’t attacked anything I posted by presenting contra-facts or pointing in errors in mine.

  • Remember that Mr. Rogers did a stint as a Navy SEAL, so he would know exactly how to “be a neighbor” with the likes of Kavanaugh.