Sam Coonrod is 27 years old, a devout Christian, and a promising pitcher with the San Francisco Giants. He doesn’t play for my favorite team, but this week, he is my favorite player.
With one simple act, he showed what it means to be committed to one’s faith–even when it is uncomfortable.
When his entire team, including their Jewish manager, came together to kneel during a pregame moment of unity, Sam stood still and chose not to kneel.
“I meant no ill will by it,” Coonrod said. “I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I’m a Christian. I just believe I can’t kneel before anything besides God.”
Historically, Jews have had a practice of not kneeling. In fact, the origins of this Christian tradition are from the Torah: “Nor shall you install a kneeling-stone in your land, to bow down upon it.” (Leviticus). The Jewish tradition goes a step further, with G-d instructing our ancestors not even to kneel before Him, as this was the practice of idolatry.
Make no mistake.The cause of racial justice that these players are kneeling for is just and vitally important. I am proud to have fought for these ideals myself for decades—whether by participating in civil-rights marches as a young man, becoming a social worker focused on underserved youth as my first job out of school or working with a group of Asian-American hotel franchise owners to found a trade association when I became the CEO of Days Inn, because I’d seen firsthand the bigotry and discrimination that they faced.
For me and so many other Jews, the impulse to fight for social justice comes from our faith. We are charged by our tradition to be a “Light unto the Nations,” teaching the world about ethics, morality, goodness and kindness.
We must continue to stand at the forefront of the fight for equality and tolerance, and against bigotry and racism. Yet I believe that we should proudly do so on a foundation that is built on the traditions and principles of our people.
In other words, we shouldn’t kneel—for anyone or anything. To show solidarity, maybe we can bow our heads instead.
The world needs us to bring more light to it, but we can do so by embracing our faith—and the fundamental principles that drive our pursuit of justice.
Mike Leven is a veteran business executive and the co-Founder of the Jewish Future Pledge.
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