It happens every year like clockwork.
Are you afraid of things that go bump in the night? I was, but I’ve been taking a course — well, officially I’ve been teaching a course — on this very subject, and now I am not afraid.
I am a rabbi. I am 46 years old. I am also the granddaughter and grand-niece of Germans who were and are not Jewish. What that means is that my grandfather and my great-uncles were in the German army during WWII, during the Holocaust. As far as I know, no one in my family was a member of the Nazi party, but neither were they resisters—they were not “righteous Gentiles.” I don’t talk about this much, but I spent many years feeling guilt and shame about my heritage, and when I converted to Judaism, it added a whole new dimension that I had to figure out. My conversion to Judaism, and my family of origin, placed me on both sides of the Holocaust.
It seems that we have entered a new era. Taking in the news, it seems to be an open season on hate against just about everyone. In my own Facebook bubble, I have noticed more and more language of “us and them.” More and more hostility, less and less generosity of spirit, and a torrent of finger pointing with a heaping dose of passive-aggressive insults thrown in. It might be easy to say that all of this is a result of the election of Donald Trump who very liberally used insults and blame throughout his campaign. While he could play a major role in quieting the storm of hate and anger, President-Elect Trump is not the cause nor is he to blame. This kind of animosity is not born out of one election cycle. This is the kind of anger, bigotry, racism and xenophobia that has grown, festered and flourished in the dark corners of society for quite some time.
In 1996, I fell in love with Marsha Falk’s feminist revision of the blessing I’d been giving my daughters every Friday evening, and traded my wish that they grow up to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah for a blessing that the children be all that they can be and be blessed in who they are. But the first time I spread my hands over the head of my eldest, Elena, and said: “Tehi asher tehi, u-tehi b’rucha b’asher tehi,” she looked up at me, wide eyed, and asked, “What’s the matter, Mommy, have you lost your standards?”
So here we are, three weeks after the presidential election, and it ain’t an easy time to be a Jewish communal leader. From rabbis to federation CEOs and heads of other Jewish institutions, we are being called upon to choose how to respond to the election results in very public and profound ways. From where I sit, and the (countless) conversations I have had with colleagues in recent days, there are two primary ways to react: as prophets or as pastors.
Last week, CNN ran a controversial banner: “Alt-Right Founder Questions if Jews are People.”
A packed church of nearly 1,500 people gathered in unity to demand social justice. We came together from different faith backgrounds and secular communities, those who live in the city and those who live in the suburbs, from various economic backgrounds, black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. We were one community. We represented more than 100,000 people from our member organizations and we joined together for a common purpose. We’d been working behind the scenes on proposals to help strengthen our community and seek criminal justice reform, including decreasing overcharging for nonviolent drug offenders and the creation of mental health crisis centers to offer treatment to those who are mentally ill instead of incarceration. We committed ourselves to creating 1,000 new livable wage jobs. We comforted each other about the current tenor in our country, and lifted each other up with promises of action. We will not give up. We will join together to create positive change. Our elected officials were present, committing themselves to working with us, and we will hold them and ourselves accountable on reaching our goals. (See story here).
For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday is like a ritual that we observe similarly each and every year. We often gather at the same home, with the same people, eating similar foods and sharing in conversations. If we gather with close friends or family whom we see often, then Thanksgiving is a time for our annual Turkey Day rituals. If we gather with family or friends whom we don’t see all year, then it is a day to catch up and reconnect.