The New Jewish Neighborhood (Part 7): Sharing Space

Earlier this summer, I went for a jog around Druid Lake, the reservoir which now has the potential to become so much more.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I love the park — a true Baltimore urban gem!  That morning I left early; midway into my run, the sun was just coming up over the scenic expanse of the city, and I was in a cheery mood.  People are often friendly in Druid Hill Park and the morning was replete with multiple enthusiastic “good mornings!” and “How ya doin’s?” — joggers passing each other in the amber morning light and cyclists cruising along the bike path.  I couldn’t help but think, despite the challenges that come with city living, how blessed we are to have this tremendous resource — our “Central Park,” a true “third place” for all to share.

Then, I noticed something a little distressing: A young man with a jump rope had set himself up in the middle of the bike path, his exercise causing the cyclists and others to swerve around him.  This was hardly an act of deep insensitivity; the bike-riders were not terribly inconvenienced.  But this is precisely why I relate the story here.  Given that the asphalt was probably 25 feet wide with plenty of room to jump rope not in the bike path, it was a true act of chutzpah for him to do so!

How often do we encounter people in our neighborhoods and communities who, unaware at best or inconsiderate at worst, seem to have little concept of what it means to share space!  It seems to me a better approach to the urban public square is to be collaborative, moving nimbly and thoughtfully within the limited physical parameters.  Torah offers a paradigm for this: nothing less than the creation of the world.   God separates land and sea, makes distinctive mountains, valleys, oceans and rivers.  God, “In the Beginning” creates particular species, areas and regions, discrete categories of space.  Indeed, Torah seems to remind us, the human beings who follow, that occupying space is about finding ways to share.  A deeper awareness of the other, his or her experience of the same space, leads to the inevitable conclusion: whatever human instinct causes us to live in tighter quarters with less space, there are ways we can do so with kindness and even grace.

My Remarks from Today’s Press Conference on Question 6

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg Press Statement
October 18, 2012
My name is Rabbi Daniel Burg. I have the privilege to serve Beth Am Synagogue in the great city of Baltimore, Maryland.
As a Rabbi and member of the Jewish faith, I am deeply concerned about religious freedoms – no clergy member or citizen ought to be forced to do something that contradicts his or her faith.  My people, the Jewish people, searched for centuries, in distant lands across the world, looking for a country to call home. 
My grandfather fled Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and made his way to America.  My grandparents and great-grandparents settled here because here they could practice their faith freely and openly, without shame, without judgment or fear.  I’m proud to live in America and Maryland where people of different beliefs and practices are guaranteed equal protection under the law.  And voting FOR Question 6 only underlines those protections! 
First, it ensures that each of us, including gays and lesbians, can choose their own path to love and happiness.  Same-sex couples, just like straight couples, will be able to go to the city or county clerk, apply for a license and get married. 
And second, my colleagues, religious leaders from various faith traditions, will continue to follow their own conscience, and none will be forced to violate his or her convictions.
For my part, I’m heartened by the many same-sex couples who wish to marry.  Marriage is good – for couples, for families and for society.  Marriage is a stabilizing force.  It’s good for kids to have loving parents, working together and helping them grow into productive, responsible adults.  Marriage Equality is about exactly that: the right for each citizen of this state to marry the person they love.
Some say this is about “traditional” marriage.  We can disagree about what’s traditional – we Jews have been arguing about “tradition” for 4,000 years!  This is about freedom, fairness and the right to self-determination. 
Same-sex couples want what straight couples want.  They want what my wife and I had – an official moment to express their love and have their state validate and honor that commitment.  They wish to build what my wife and I have built – a family. They ask for nothing except the blessing of good neighbors, loved ones and co-workers who wish them well.  They don’t want to change society.  They want to change their Facebook status or check the box that says “married.”
Look, we all have a right to disagree. But being an American, I believe, is about making more room for others, not less, even if it makes us a little uncomfortable.  I thank God every day that I was able to find, court and marry my soul mate.  And my faith tells me I ought to be able to rejoice in that same happiness for others! 
So join me in voting FOR Question 6.  Stand on the right side of history, and help me prove that the land my grandfather came to 75 years ago will always be a place of fairness, tolerance and justice for all.