Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Day 191 Nat'l Emergency: Pre-Rosh Hashana Reflections

 In a few days Jews will gather physically or virtually to celebrate the beginning of a new year, 5781. Rosh Hashana ushers in 10 days of introspection culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During those 10 days one is expected to repent and seek forgiveness, not just from God, but, equally if not more importantly, from those one might have offended in deed or word during the past year.

It is customary for rabbinic sermons to avoid politics. It would be naive, however, to think thoughts about the current state of our nation, inflicted upon us by the actions or failure to act of our fellow Americans, would not filter through remarks from the pulpit. 

Regular readers know my biases. I believe in climate change. I believe systemic racism exists and must be erased. I believe police routinely treat Blacks rougher than Whites. I believe women should receive equal pay for equal work. I believe women should have control over their own bodies. I believe in gender equality. I believe teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen, EMTs, sanitation workers, child care and nursing home workers should be compensated commensurate with the important functions they perform keeping our country safe and prepared for the future. I believe the coronavirus pandemic should have been treated as a national challenge and not left to 50 states to forge individual, at times conflicting, responses. I believe Israel has a right to exist. I believe Palestinians should have their own demilitarized state. 

I believe a president leads, as much if not more than by policies, by example, by temperament, by character, by empathy, by integrity, by the willingness to accept criticism and learn from it, by the quality of appointments, by the respect accorded allies, subordinates and opponents. In all these traits of leadership I find Donald Trump lacking. 

With my biases before you, here are two recent commentaries I came across on Facebook. Though long, they’re worth your time. The first is from a rabbi. The second is from a secular, retired leader of the Jewish community. 

A rabbi’s response to our President calling Jews “lacking knowledge and disloyal” if they vote Democratic:

Rabbi Danny Maseng writes:

As a Jew …

Since you called me out as a Jew, Mr. President, since you thought to call me disloyal or lacking knowledge by not voting for you, I’d like to respond to you personally, even though I have no illusions you will read this.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I am commanded to love the stranger who dwells among us no less than thirty-six times in the Bible you claim to treasure. I am commanded to have one law for the stranger and the citizen. No exceptions.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I am commanded to pay my employees on time, including undocumented workers at casinos, construction sites, or golf courses. 

As a Jew, I am commanded to repay bank loans and investors. 

As a Jew, I am commanded to never bear false witness.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I am commanded to guard my tongue and speak no evil.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I am commanded to never embarrass my fellow human being in public, lest I be accused of spilling their blood—including Ted Cruz or the late Senator and war hero, John McCain.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I take great offense in my president attacking Denmark, a country that gallantly saved its Jews from the Nazis, while most of Europe fell asleep.

As a Jew, Mr. President, I take umbrage in my Grandfather, the sainted Dr. Rabbi Harry S. Davidowitz, who inhaled poison gas in the trenches of WWI as a U.S. Army chaplain, being called disloyal because he voted Democrat.

As a Jew, born and raised in Israel, I take offense at you calling me disloyal to America AND to Israel because I oppose your inept, ghoulish, uncouth, deceitful, inhumane farce of leadership. How many tours of duty have you performed for Israel during wartime? Or, for that sake, the USA?

As a Jew, Mr. President, I reserve the right to oppose Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (neither of whom called upon the help of a former KGB operative to help them in their election to office), while simultaneously condemning your divisive, racist rants and policies. 

As a Jew who has proud Republican family members who I love and cherish, I am ashamed of what you have done to the Republican party; to conservative ideals—even if I do not share all of those ideals.

As a Jew whose Christian uncle fought heroically at the Battle of the Bulge for our country and for the salvation of Europe—I am ashamed by the mockery you visit upon his sacrifice.

As the son of a Christian pilot, later converted to Judaism, who led American pilots to glorious victory over Nazi Germany, I am outraged by your embrace of neo-Nazi’s and racists in America (that same pilot, who became a squadron commander in the Israeli Air Force, and fought for Israel’s independence).

As a Jew, I am disgraced by your fawning adoration of the worst dictators of our century—you violate Christian and Jewish values by doing so.

As a Jew; as a well-informed Jew who loves and cares deeply for Israel and for America, I condemn you and call you out for the divisive fool, the ogre, the ghoul that you are.

May my soul not enter your council, let me not join your assembly.

From a spiritual commentary to the thoughts of Abraham Foxman, the director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman served 28 years as ADL’s national director. 

Nothing pains me more than to speak up with anguish in the face of this presidential election. But silence is not an option. American Jewry confronts a fateful choice. Another four years of Donald Trump will be nothing less than a body blow for our country and our community.

I must acknowledge the unexpected nature of this statement. For more than half a century, I avoided public positions on electoral politics. When I chose a career working for the Jewish people, I took on a sacred obligation, like so many other professionals, to avoid taking sides in partisan contests—an obligation I carried into retirement.

But there is more than enough evidence Trump is a demagogue and his presidency threatens American democracy.

When our democracy is weakened, and when nativism is stoked, the rights of Jews and other minorities will be diminished too. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and Jews know this well from bitter experience.

I respect any American, and any Jewish American, who continues to identify with and support the Republican party, which has made significant and lasting contributions to the Jewish community. And I understand why some of these voters are struggling with their decision.

In my mind, the case is closed. His leadership endangers our democracy, and therefore our community.

My reasoning is simple and stark: Trump’s presidency—in spirit and in deed—has given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society. He and his administration dehumanize immigrants, demonize the most vulnerable, and undermine the civility and enlightened political culture that have allowed Jews to achieve what no Diaspora community outside Israel can claim in two millennia.

What’s more, American Jews look beyond our own parochial interests, for we know that our future is inextricably tied to the welfare of others. Promoting tolerance, inclusion, and equality is non-negotiable. Defending immigrants and refugees is an inseparable part of our collective story—and my own, as a Holocaust survivor and a refugee.

We must ask ourselves: Is America stronger, more stable and more caring, than it was before Trump entered office?

For me, the answer is clear. No. I know I am not alone.

Talk to Jewish community leaders in private and read surveys of the Jewish public. After decades of progress, following successive generations of rising metrics of safety and security, Jews are filled with fear and anxiety. President Trump shoulders a good measure of the blame.

Is the president of the United States an anti-Semite?

No. But that’s not the right question.

Has his leadership lifted America? Has it made Jews feel more secure? Is he our best hope for healing our nation and addressing the twin crises of a pandemic and a reckoning with racism?

If anyone needs another reason, look beyond our borders. A stable, credible, influential, revered—and sometimes feared—America has been a force multiplier for world Jewry for decades, often in ways that are most clearly visible to those of us working behind the scenes on behalf of global Jewish causes. Remember freedom for Soviet, Ethiopian, and Syrian Jewry.

Here, too, there is no doubt in my mind that Trump’s failings of character and America’s dismal global standing have hurt Jewish interests.

It is true that Trump has made decisions that many in our community have waited for, including his decision on Jerusalem, which I support. But these decisions have come at the cost of Trump’s frontal assault on bipartisan support for Israel, and some have been clothed in deeply offensive stereotypes about Jews and their ties to the Jewish state.

Our community has an enormous stake in bipartisanship. It is the only way to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry. It is how we built a strong US-Israel alliance.

Indeed, I grew up in an America where Jews were not fully integrated and Washington’s support for Israel was wafer thin. Yet the reality is different now, in large part because leaders of conscience have cultivated and sustained the broadest possible base of support for this agenda.

Trump has damaged that necessary consensus, and we cannot permit Jews and Israel to be weaponized for anyone’s narrow political interests.

We do have reason for hope. I have known Joe Biden for many years, and I have confidence he will restore the equilibrium that has been lost. He has been an ally, and he has repeatedly pledged to aggressively fight anti-Semitism. I am confident he and Kamala Harris will not back down from confronting Israel’s enemies and detractors, even if they emerge within their own party.

I am old enough to remember a world where illiberalism ran amok and dictators held vast numbers of our brothers and sisters hostage, behind Iron Curtains and worse.

And I am old enough to recall a style of Jewish American politics that was more quietist, more hesitant, a politics of a minority too accustomed to keeping its head down.

But thankfully, American Jews left this behind—yet another reason I cannot be silent at this inflection point in history.

Nor can any of us, for the sake of our nation, our people and our world.