Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I was woken up last week, early Tuesday morning to be told by television producers for the news program on which I was to appear that my segment had been postponed because of yet another round of unbearable and unfathomable terror in Europe. I am sickened and frightened; especially for the world in which my wife and I are raising our children. May we wisely work towards peace and maintain clarity of mind and spirit on our treacherous path forward.
I was particularly hesitant about this appearance on the news. In the divisive world in which we live, almost any opinion offered is construed as offensive. Indeed, besides the obvious and universal horror expressed about the tragedy in Belgium, the social media highways were filled otherwise with reaction to Donald Trump’s address to the AIPAC convention last Monday night in Washington D.C. There was a frenetic rush for everyone to offer their respective insights. I understand. It was a watershed moment which will go down as either famous or infamous, depending on our place on the political and Jewish spectrum.
I was in Washington for the conference, and I have a perspective also. But it is from the view of my 13-year old niece; perhaps, the point of view which should concern us the most. My sister-in-law was raised along with my wife to be committed to our country, its laws and its call to service. We are raising our children with that same sense of awareness and devotion to the United States and Israel. And so, my sister-in-law thought it appropriate to take my niece out of school to learn in the arena of the real world. I was proud. Three generations of my family took pictures with elected officials and my father-in-law fought back tears as he realized that the values he his had instilled to his children are continuing to manifest into reality.
And then Donald Trump gave his speech. I explained to my family that I would not join my colleagues whom I deeply respect, as they left the arena to study in protest. I saw it as an obligation to listen in person, as this man for whom I had already lost respect, attempted to navigate what I thought would be a skeptical crowd. And, I knew this was an important speech for Mr. Trump, as he attempts to pivot to general election mode. I also knew it was an imperative moment for the Jewish community. How would we react to a man who has spewed such overt words of bigotry, profanity and hate?
As a professional speaker, I was objectively impressed. His speech was disciplined, organized, coherent and on point. He used the teleprompter effectively. He knew when to modulate and when to step back. He nimbly held the room of 18,000.
But that is my objective evaluation of his speech. Although, Mr. Trump acted nothing like the vulgar manner in which he usually conducts himself, he couldn’t help but to tirade into some of his typical personal, nasty attacks. He spoke malevolently about Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the United Nations. I would have welcomed respectful critique of all, but instead, he pursued his points with venom and hardly any substance.
One would think that such blatant language used in a supposedly bi-partisan crowd would be rebuffed. But I am sure, as is now known to most, that was not the case. His derogatory statements drew massive applause from my guesstimate of about 75% of the gathering. What helped the crowd get hypnotically more drawn in were Mr. Trump’s steadfastly supportive comments about Israel. He promised to be Israel’s best friend, to rip up the Iran agreement, to invite the Israeli Prime Minister to the White House as his first act, to give Israel everything she needs to defend herself, and to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to its rightful place in Jerusalem. While these are all aspects that so many of us want from any American president; and each of the candidates from both Parties promised steadfast support for Israel(except Senator Sanders who did not attend the conference), Mr. Trump drew the most delirious roars from the crowd.
I was dismayed and saddened for so many reasons. I scanned the crowd, as they locked in joyous step with Trump’s cadence. But, then more, I felt downtrodden when I looked over at my niece and saw the look of utter confusion on her face. Her expression read, “I don’t understand. Everything he says about Israel is what my family wants and teaches me. And, yet, the way he speaks about other people is exactly how my parents teach me not to act.”
I could tell she wanted to clap for his support of our Homeland; she wanted to stand as he spoke of his love for Israel, but she didn’t know what to do because it also somehow felt wrong. I looked at her body language and it read, “My parents have taught me to be wary of evil, but not to hate entire groups of people. My parents have guided me to be discerning about complicated issues, but not to encourage the hate of immigrants and other groups of difference.”
To me, her face read most of all, “I have been taught to weigh all of my values. To be Jewish to me means to support Israel with my whole heart and soul, but it also means to love my neighbor as myself and to not oppress the stranger because I was once a stranger in a strange land.”
I imagined she wondered why everyone was cheering for this man…this man who says he cares so much for Israel, but at the same time spews hatred for people that we Jews are supposed to at least be discerning about before we say such horrible things.
We taught her that during her three days in Washington D.C., while missing school, she would be introduced to one of the few places left where she would not witness bipartisan bickering. Here she would find the glue that binds all stripes of people together, a love for Israel. Here, she would find several thousand Christians, African Americans and Latinos, bound together because of a higher cause, Zionism.
I imagine that my sister-in-law will bring my niece back to D.C. again next year. And, my wife and I will bring our eldest. I believe that AIPAC is authentically trying to bring together all Jews for a unified support of Israel. I also believe, however, that they may have tripped a bit in building their numbers without working equally as hard in building the values they want manifested in their gatherings.
I don’t agree with what many who gather at these conferences believe. But I absolutely believe in finding common ground for the greater good of a thriving Israel. I will not turn my back. I will volunteer to help AIPAC’s leadership build stronger bridges and set expectations which match the highest of Jewish ideals.
I am committed to these ideals for Israel; for the Jewish people; for my congregation; for wife and me. But most importantly, I want my nieces and nephews; and my own children, to come and support our Homeland. The complexity in our support is more than acceptable, but hypocrisy is absolutely not.