You’ve Got To be Carefully Taught 2.0

Music composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein

I originally wrote this blog in 2015, and feel it is necessary to update and share again within the context of the violence of these last several weeks in Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, Thousand Oaks, and this week in Israel. It is  my hope that with this new Jewish month of Kislev, the values embodied by the coming holiday of Chanukah will prevail over hate. 

In 1949, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein won several Tony Awards for their blockbuster musical, South Pacific. However, it also drew critics and controversy for it covered uncomfortable territory. Its romantic tension was based on interracial romance, a strong taboo at the time. The lyrics of the song in the show that addressed this tension, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, made many people uncomfortable:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were repeatedly asked to drop the song. The Georgia state legislature even drafted a bill banning the song during the national tour’s stop in Atlanta in 1954. The bill was defeated. In Boston, a Navy lieutenant commander demanded that the number be cut because it was shoving ideology down the audience’s throats. Hammerstein wrote back, “Please forgive me for not agreeing with you. I am most anxious to make the point not only that prejudice exists and is a problem, but that its birth lies in teaching and not in the fallacious belief that there are biological, physiological, and mental differences between the races…”

Although we come into this world with the inclination to do both good and evil, Jews believe people are born innocent.  As the song clearly states, we have to be taught to hate. And make no mistake, evil and hatred are taught – and they must be taught from year to year, systematically, to take root and spread.

Sadly we see the results of hate all around us.  The increase in anti-Semitic incidents, the mass shooting at the Tree of life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, racial issues in our own country, the intolerant and divisive speech of many politicians, and the most recent mass shooting in California are all concerning here at home.  We are drawing more and more lines, separating from and demonizing the “other.”  Our children observe these actions, and hear the divisive language of adults around them.

Tolerance and respect for life must be taught. Justice and compassion for our fellow human beings must be taught.

We, as Jews and as parents, who want to fashion a better world for our children, must lead the way. Regardless of faith, ethnicity or race, there are universal values, universal values that we, as Jews, introduced to humanity; the universal values based on the attributes of an ethical monotheistic God. These values include justice, mercy, and compassion for all human life!

In all of this darkness, we Jews cannot forget that we introduced this light to the world. But just like hate and fear must be taught, we must, with a full heart, and a sense of urgency, make sure we teach our children the values of our people – the values of our God. We must not only teach them these values, we must show them through our own actions and words how to live by them.

In every society, children are viewed as the hope of the future. Among the Jewish people this notion is enriched by the view that children are a Divine trust, and guarantors of the future.  The Book of Psalms declares, “children are an inheritance from the Lord.” And through teaching our children, we can change the world for good and for peace!

Chanukah, the festival of light, embodies the values of religious freedom, dignity, justice, and compassion. May the sacred souls of those innocent Jews who died in Pittsburgh simply because they were Jewish serve as the impetus to teach all of the children of God’s world and God’s universal values of justice, compassion and mercy for all of humanity!

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