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.
This has been a momentous time – and while I believe in the absolute separation of church and state, I also believe in addressing the always profound ways that the political climate affects us as individuals, and as Jews. And no matter who you voted for – no matter the reasons you made your choice – this is a tough time for us as American citizens – because living in the unknown is one of the most taxing and anxiety-provoking experiences we face as human beings.
I am not going to talk about who is right or wrong – if the nation made a wise choice, or not – if things will fall apart, or improve.
I am going to talk about a very Jewish concept – and that is that the way we speak our thoughts, channel our energies, and respond in difficult situations are a direct reflection on our people – the Jewish people, and on our own personal ethics, as well as the way we choose to make God’s presence manifest on the earth – or not.
That is not the work of a day or a week or an election cycle. It is the work of every moment, every breath we take, every word that we speak with respect. It is the work of internal reflection to understand what motivates our decisions, and how we will respond to one another.
In my lifetime, I have seen our nation change time and again, but I have never seen such a reaction to an election. It is painful to see fellow citizens dressed in black, in mourning, or taking to the streets in tears – as their understanding of our nation is shattered. As they feel their personal security is threatened. They are not whining – they are grieving. And that is their right.
It is hard to see that so many people felt so disenfranchised that they were willing to look away from dangerous rhetoric to make their frustrations with the government heard – and dangerous rhetoric unleashes hubris and violence.
It is hard to read about the emboldened haters who spew their bilious intolerance and loathing. And it is terrifying to read the constant torrents of reports of the abject hatred that has been unleashed. Asians being derided and called Japs and Latinos threatened with violence and deportation, African Americans being harassed in hate-fests, told it’s back to lynchings and picking cotton. Of gays and Muslims being stalked and beaten. Of Muslims terrified to wear their religious garb. Of women being openly groped by men – even teens – who say it is okay because our president-elect says it is. Swastikas and hate-graffiti are popping up everywhere. The KKK says that their people – white people – have been vindicated. They are celebrating in the streets.
No matter what good intentions voters had in mind when they voted for either candidate, this is what we have to deal with. It just doesn’t matter how wrong-headed we think the haters reasoning is, or how corrupt their morals are – or how obscene their hatred is – this is our new reality. And it’s not going to slink back under its rock.
I am ashamed that residents of this nation feel so vulnerable. I am ashamed that people have taken to wearing safety pins in their need to stand in solidarity with the abused – and ashamed many have stopped wearing them for fear that haters will mimic the act and take advantage of those who have good reason to fear. And I am breathtaken that so much vile hate was roiling so close to the surface that this sickening, poisonous bile is being spewed out without restraint.
This is a tough time – and a difficult test for us as Jews. Again. How will we respond? The Torah teaches us that we – all of people of the earth – made in God’s image. Sometimes that’s not so comforting. Sometimes it’s downright challenging. Like now. Because if we are to make God manifest on earth, we cannot fall into a pattern of vilification others.
As Rav Avraham Kook – the wise first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel taught us:
“The love of God’s creatures must include all humankind, regardless of religion and race. The narrow mindedness that sees whatever is outside our people as impure and contaminated is one of those terrible blights that destroys any good building/structure.” – Rav Kook, Middot
Our task as Jews is to heal the world – to pursue peace and justice and walk humbly in the service of God. And that is our call to empowerment – to respond to the commandment not to stand idly by the blood – or tears – or fears of our neighbors. We must remember that our personal point of view about whether a person should feel fear or not is more a reflection on our own hearts than on theirs.
We cannot take a wait-and-see attitude. Considering the reality of the aggression we see, waiting would be pretty comparable to the attitude in Nazi Germany. When we, as Jews, as citizens, and human beings – turn away from those in need, when we overlook the deleterious behaviors of others – we allow evil to flourish. To blame victims is to dehumanize them. And we know too well the outcome of that.
The very worst thing we can do – by that I mean the most reckless and damaging thing we can do – would be to allow a feeling of victory or vindication to overwhelm us – lest our our hearts to grow hard in anger or frustration. It has never worked well for us, because it divides us – all of us – Jew and Jew, Jew and Gentile, native and foreign-born; women and men – the division of every binary pair is a harbinger of violence. And we must not allow fear to paralyze us. Sometimes, we may need to be courageous. And that means we may need to make ourselves vulnerable. And that is just the way it is.
Paraphrasing the words of author Michael Walzer… ‘Wherever you live, it is probably Egypt. And there is, there really is, a promised land. And there is, there really is, a promised time. And the only way to get from here to there, from now to then, is by joining hands and walking though the wilderness, this time not searching for signs and miracles, but for opportunities to act.’
Never lose faith that we can change the world and bring healing to our fellows and our divided nation – because it is for this that we have been created.
Pronounced: AHVR-rah-ham, Origin: Hebrew, Abraham in the Torah, considered the first Jew.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.