“A generation goes and a generation comes.”
Rabbi Olan starts this sermon, delivered November 26, 1967, with the observation that “the world… is in constant evolution. Nothing stands still.” That makes youthful rebellion expectable, even though “change can overwhelm and frighten us.”
He urges his contemporaries to listen to young people: “these rebellious young people are telling us something about our adult way of life today and the values by which we live. They do have a real protest and they are earnest, genuine, and real in their rejection of our values. If we who are older listened earnestly to them and saw ourselves as they see us, our own lives could be improved on greatly.”
Rabbi Olan sees the heart of this protest as a reaction to adult hypocrisy, to his generation preaching one set of values and living by another. “There is a terrible gap between our preaching and our practice.” As so often in his sermons, one of his examples is the treatment of Black people in a country supposedly committed to the equal worth of all. Another example is consumer culture, the pursuit of more and more possessions in which there is “no genuine joy.” A third is the empty forms of rote religion.
However, Rabbi Olan challenges the value of purely negative protest, and asks, “Is there an acceptable guide which can lead [us] towards a more satisfying and genuine experience in living?”
His answer, which he expresses in religious terms, is that there is such a guide: respect for the sanctity of the human being. “It holds that a person is more than a thing among things. He is not to be used for another person’s pleasure or profit… He is to be free to fulfill the best that is in him.”
Rabbi Olan’s radical humanism remains as relevant to us today as it was in 1967.
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph*