Just a week ago I had the privilege to learn with the members of Nachshon, a JUF men's leadership mission, now in its 11th year. This learning took place in Auschwitz, Majdanek, the Warsaw Ghetto, and upon the topography of terror that is Berlin. While there we learned about the sleeping conditions, the available food and drink, the workday, the sanitary facilities, the medical care for the Jewish residents, and the landscape outside the windows of their living quarters.
I thought about all this over the past few days as the news reports kept growing in intensity and despair about the cruise liner Carnival Triumph. The ship had a fire in the engine room; the ship lost power. The food preparation systems and the sanitary facility systems stopped working. Getting food and drink was not at all easy. It was really inconvenient. It was, in fact, a huge inconvenience. Electronic access to the world at large brought their predicament into our living rooms as the media, with ever increasing coverage, dramatized their plight. As I understand from the papers there were two or three cases of passengers who were thankfully airlifted off of the ship because of health problems. Several days of no showers, no fun vacation, sanitary facilities denied and so on; The Cruise from Hell, it was labeled.
But now let's take a larger view of this. To be sure, from the confined perspective of the passengers adrift at sea this was an unnerving experience. It became for them, and many observers, a microcosm of what can happen when humanity loses its regular supports. However, do we really believe that the significant inconveniences, absent any threat to life or limb, rises to the levels of suffering described in the news media? Have we reached such a point that being deprived of some basic conveniences is really, as one newscaster put it, nightmarish? And now we are going to begin the litigation circus. All sorts of attorneys are going to descend upon this group. And all sorts of passengers are going to see how much they can get out of this cruise ship company for their inconveniences. In our society, must every inconvenience be equated with real human suffering?
I have a proposal for the passengers of the inconvenience fated cruise ship. One of the fundamental moral principles of Judaism is what was done to you, you should never do to others; what you experienced, you should never allow others to experience:
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
So for all of you aboard the good ship 'inconvenience' who are now comfortably back on dry land, having just recently shaken your heads in media covered despair, this is an invitation to join in alleviating the real and enduring suffering in this world.
Given the well-defined, limited, non-life threatening inconveniences in the areas of food, nutrition, sleeping accommodations, sanitary facilities, and the deprivation of recreational activities, might it not be a good idea for the passengers of the Carnival Triumph to form a society for the relief of inner city hunger and homelessness, for the rescue of those dying of starvation in sub-Saharan Africa, and withering away in the throes of genocide and violence in Darfur and the Congo? For the lack of recreation on board ship in the sunny Caribbean, can this group of passengers commit to building some playgrounds in our inner cities? If in such temporary conditions the passengers reacted the way they did and experienced a short taste of inconvenience, what can they now do for those who live those 'inconveniences' daily? Can they and we move from selfishness to selflessness?