Two rabbis (not including comedian Billy Crystal**) spoke at the Muhammad Ali funeral in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday afternoon. One, to me, was an embarrassment. One, to me, was an inspiration.
Rabbi Michael Lerner of the San Francisco Bay Area came to the podium in a tallis of many rainbow colours and said he was representing the American Jewish community. He started out well in his pro-Islamic and pro-Muslim statements. But later, he was no longer repping me, an American Jew.
To me, he smacked of self-promotion when he gave a generous plug to his magazine, Tikkun, and later asked people to visit his website for spiritual progressives. (Thankfully, he refrained from mentioning his book, Blacks and Jews, which he penned with Cornel West.) Although he had some good sentences about Ali the activist and how we must all be like Ali, his attempt to speak out about global issues, though an audience pleaser, irritated me in a way the Ali never did.
He bashed Israel not only once, but twice, like dipping at a Pesach seder.
He distanced himself and his friends from Israel’s political policies. He also criticized the GOP and Turkey. Did he discuss injustice in South Africa, Africa, Russia, China, Tibet, the P.A. or other places? Nope. He took it upon himself to criticize Israel’s current democratically elected government.
If this is how he acts at a funeral, I wonder what he discusses under a chuppah at a wedding. If he was trying to speak out a la Muhammad Ali and honor Ali by speaking out and refusing the path of conformity, it fell flat, crashed, and burned.
In his written speech, according to Business Insider, he was planning to say, “Muhammad Ali had the courage to say no to Farrakhan and leave the anti-Semitism and homophobia of that part of Islam, and eventually to draw sustenance from the Sufi approach to Islam – the ultimate in a love-oriented religion.”
But guess what? He didn’t
He also planned to close with: “We Jews, as well as our non-Jewish allies in all religions and secular humanists, wish to pay honor to the Muslims of the world as they continue today the fast of Ramadan, and join with them in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali, a great fighter for justice and peace.” But he left out the “We Jews…..” opening clause.
He did get a standing ovation for ruffling feathers.
Rabbi Michael Lerner at Muhammad Ali funeral:
Later, in the funeral, Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport of The Temple (Congregation Adath Israel Brith Sholom) in Louisville Kentucky gave a wisdom filled eulogy.
I think it is worth dying to get a eulogy like this. In addition to sharing a prayer from his synagogue’s Yom Kippur service, he shared a very memorable story told about Ali’s giving a ride to a stranger on the road, and discussed the greatness of inspiring others to see the greatness and compassion in themselves. He also led a chorus of “I AM ALI” – because there is a little bit of “Ali in Me.”
**Comedian Billy Crystal’s eulogy spoke of Ali’s work on an Arab-Jewish theatre project. Crystal said that Ali helped him raise funds for an Israeli-Palestinian theatre project at the Khan Theater at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University: Billy Crystal’s Program for Peace through the Performance Arts. Crystal shared a joke he and Ali shared while sitting with each other at Howard Cosell’s funeral Crystal also added that Ali quit a country club when he learned that it was “restricted,” meaning it excluded Jews.
Two more interesting euologies:
Dr. Kevin Cosby, the senior pastor at St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Kentucky, discussing Ali in light of post WWII civil rights
Rev. Msgr. Henry Kriegel of Erie Pennsylvania Roman Catholic Diocese
Tikkun Leil Shavuot this is not: