My oldest childhood friend is wonderfully engaging, intelligent and loyal. Conversations with him are always lively. He voices his opinions confidently and constantly.
My fondness for him is 70 years old. It is deep and irreversible.
We understand each other. Our friendship has endured periodic hiatuses. No rifts, just intermittent separations.
An op-ed written by Rabbi David Volpe addressing his upcoming retirement from the rabbinate leavened my thoughts concerning my friend. Before reading Volpe’s farewell as a religious leader in Los Angeles, I had talked at length with my longtime friend about a heartful matter.
Then the conversation turned political on my conservative friend’s part.
Our conversations often take a political direction. He is anti-woke. He strongly condemns his college alma mater for what he considers its ill-advised liberal leanings. His rhetorical criticisms are ceaseless.
Volpe would advise patience and tolerance. Get to know the person (as I do) and develop a relationship before heading into the troubled waters of politics. That phase has already passed for my friend and me. Entry into a listening phase is now a priority for both of us—though I think I do most of the active listening. He might disagree.
His political perspective is shared by many. He is especially articulate and forceful.
This friend is exceedingly kind. His attentiveness to friends enduring hospitalizations is nothing short of amazing. He makes a compassionate point of checking in periodically and persistently.
My point is simple. Politics is irrelevant when committed to a 70-year-old relationship. It would seem obvious. But, as Rabbi Volpe has discovered in recent years as a religious leader, many friendships have fractured. The worship community suffers; a rift is no secret. People tread carefully.
A thread of disunity courses its insidious way through the congregation.
Volpe has witnessed first-hand the destruction of civility in his synagogue in Los Angeles. As he nears his retirement, he laments the consequences of political disagreement.
Disagree and disappear—that is today’s formula for relationships no longer considered desirable in our nation’s political climate. Quick hello, maybe. But no more.
It is no surprise that when Volpe looks back on his 26 years as a rabbi, he recalls acts of kindness interspersed, of course, with typical disputes in a house of worship, exacerbated these days by political divisions.
Times are tense for religious and academic leaders.
An op-ed such as Rabbi Volpe’s in the New York Times often seems a scream for civility and compassion. He writes clearly and knowledgeably about the human condition. As I read it, I wondered if he has tired of the woeful difficulty of leading a synagogue and struggling to retain the sense of community and comity so vital to a church or synagogue or mosque.
Retirement offers a new avenue of personal growth and creativity. It does not preclude emotional stress and physical challenges.
The sinews of a friendship are tough enough to keep strong in the best of times, let alone in our current maelstrom. With my oldest friendship, I am committed to its continuity. I need no prodding or persuasion. A clergyperson need not counsel patience and tolerance.
That said, this quotation from Volpe’s commentary particularly resonated with me: “We, who do not know ourselves, believe we understand others. We must be reminded that each person is a world, and the caricatures we see of others on social media and in the news are just that—a small slice of the vastness within each human being.”
Harder to practice than appreciate the preaching? Probably so. Still worth preserving a friendship.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.