I was in New York this week and actually bought a New York Post for the first time in my life. Why? Because it featured on it’s Dec. 12 cover a photo of Walter Adler, a Jewish subway passenger, with his arm draped over Hassan Askari, a Muslim accounting student, over the title: “Peace Train: Muslim rescues Jew from subway thugs.”
According to the Post, when Adler and some friends boarded a Q train, someone wished them a “Merry Christmas,” and Adler responded with “Happy Hanukkah.” About 14 men and women then started shouting anti-Semitic slurs and others immediately began to pummel Adler. That is when Askari jumped in, taking some hits himself to save Adler.
The story is both warm and chilling. It reminds us that anti-Semitism is prevalent not only in Europe and throughout the Arab world, but also remains a constant here in the good old US of A.
However, what earned the Post my 50 cents was the reminder that there are still good people out there of all persuasions.
Both hatred for and love of our fellow human beings is something that is learned. When asked why he intervened, Askari said his parents raised him that way. We need more parents like Askari’s–Muslim, Jewish and Christian.
Interviews with Holocaust rescuers show they do not think of themselves as courageous. How could they have done otherwise, so many righteous gentiles reply when asked why they intervened, often at great risk to themselves. They felt they had no choice if they were to live by their own code of moral decency.
Askari also doesn’t think of himself as courageous. He does wonder why no one else jumped in to help. That, too, is also something that is learned. All too often people just don’t want to get involved and teach their kids not to get involved. That sense of disinterest lies at the heart of much of what is wrong in the world today.
But that is not what our tradition tells us. Scripture teaches us “not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor” (Lev. 19:16) and “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). It is not always clear how far one must go to fulfill these commandments, Rabbi Elliot Dorff explains in his book, “Love Your Neighbor And Yourself: A Jewish Approach to Modern Personal Ethics.” Must one endanger oneself for another, as Askari did? Or must one at least try to do something to help, even if only to go seek a transit cop or police officer? I wonder how many other Jews were on that train and did nothing but mind their own business.
Thank God for Askari, not only because he saved Adler from a much worse beating, but because he is a light for tolerance and concern in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized. We could use more of such concern in the world right now. Then this one little miracle would really light up the world.