We’ve recently concluded our celebration of Passover, as the last paragraph in the Haggadah says, “along with all its rituals and customs.” Among young children and their teachers and parents, those rituals include the singing of “Frogs Are Jumping Everywhere,” a happy sounding tune based on the story in the Torah about the invasion of frogs from the Nile River, the second of the Ten Plagues. Behind this children’s song lies an important and serious message that has become deeply relevant in recent days.
This week we learned that Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, made outrageously offensive racial comments in a conversation with his girlfriend (in days to come, the back story of why the girlfriend secretly recorded their conversation will surely come out). Born in Chicago as Donald Tokowitz and raised in Los Angeles, Sterling is the son of Jewish immigrants. He is a self-made billionaire who purchased the Clippers franchise for $12 million in 1981 and has seen the value of his investment rise to $750 million. Upon confirming that the comments heard on the tape were made by Sterling, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Alan Silver, banned him from professional basketball for life, levied a fine of $2.5 million, and promised to press the 29 other owners to vote to force him to sell the team and make his eviction from the NBA complete.
Sterling may think of himself as a generous and tolerant person (his foundation distributes money to several charitable organizations, including some that support minority causes), but there is no doubt that he is a rabid racist. His removal from the NBA was absolutely the right move for the commissioner to make. Now that must be followed by being ostracized from other communal organizations and social groups, for there is no place in our society for someone who holds racist views. Not only must a message be sent to Mr. Sterling that his racism rightly excludes him from mainstream society, but a similarly strong message must be sent to all other racists, those in the open and those in hiding, that their racism is an unacceptable violation of everything that decent and honorable people stand for.
The only way to defeat the scourge of racism is for good people to unify and rise up against it. We can’t allow bigoted people to spew their hatred and go unchallenged. That’s the message behind the children’s Passover song about frogs. Interestingly, the Torah passage in the Book of Exodus that describes the invasion of the frogs starts out by saying that “the frog” came up from the Nile onto the land—not many frogs, only one frog. The Midrashic text seizes on this quirk of language to make the point that at first one frog came up and when he encountered no resistance he signaled to his friends to join him. Thereafter, ironically, the Torah text indeed says that “the frogs” invaded the land. The take away from the Midrash is clear—a plague will advance on its way to infecting society if it faces no resistance.
Frogs here, frogs there, frogs are jumping everywhere. Passover may be behind us, but the ills of society are, sadly, not. Donald Sterling, like all racists, is a plague on all of us. The way to stop him and prevent the spread of his narrow minded, bigoted view of people and our world is to stand up and prevent him from coming up from the depths of the river onto the land.