Synagogues do not choose political parties nor back candidates. Statements made by the Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Movements, however, point to a growing consensus among American Jewry that a “neutral business as usual” approach can no longer hold where Donald Trump is concerned.
When AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) announced that Trump would be given a platform at its annual convention, the leadership of our Reform Movement wrote this in response.
Some of my rabbinic colleagues walked out in protest. One friend sat and held a sign “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” written in English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Arabic. Others held a study session outside of the hall, probing Jewish texts for guidance and inspiration. And others applauded what may be the only scripted speech Mr. Trump has given so far in his campaign.
The next day the leadership of AIPAC addressed the convention with an emotional apology to clarify its respect for the Office of the President and for President Obama. “We have said, in every way we can think of: Come together. But last evening, something occurred which has the potential to drive us apart, to divide us. We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the president of the United States of America from our stage.”
I admit I am baffled by the standing ovations. I personally cannot draw a circle around one speech to separate it from his other speeches. It was clarifying to hear Trump’s position on Israel – and I believe that is what AIPAC was after – but I cannot cheer for a man who has built a presidential campaign on hatred. Like Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center in Washington, I want to know how Donald Trump could possibly justify the hateful, bigoted, and ugly things he has said. Here is the open letter Rabbi Pesner has written “on behalf of 1.5 million Reform Jews.”
The Larger Issue
Donald Trump is a powerful man, but he is only one man. The greater concern, of course, are the thousands of Americans who are drawn to his hateful speech and who feel their fears are addressed by his slogans. Their anger and fear are real and will continue long after the election.
Canadians do not have a vote, of course. Yes, we know we are fortunate to live in this good country and to watch from across the border. But what is our role in this moment of history? How might we use our voices to condone or condemn? CIJA broke from its usual boundaries and made this comment back in December in order to distinguish Jewish and Canadian values from his when it comes to welcoming worthy Muslim immigrants.
I welcome a respectful conversation among congregants below.
Donald Trump is not Haman. Such comparisons are not helpful. The fanciful story of Purim, however, does come with a warning and a charge. The warning: choose leadership carefully. The charge: use your voice courageously.
On Purim we laugh in the face of a world turned topsy-turvy. But that cynical laughter is only for a day. Every other day of the year we have to work very hard, with eyes wide open, in order to create the just and peaceful world we seek.