I love my community. I love being Jewish. I am proud of my Judaism and I am proud of the state of Israel. I do not think she is without flaw, but I know that for the most part she tries to take the moral high ground. We hope that this is something every country and group of people does, and yet, sadly, we know it is not.
But within my community, I have become a bit of an outlier. I consider myself a moderate, someone who sees things as they are, and can call out both sides for its pros and cons. I seem to be a domestic liberal and an economic and foreign policy conservative. In other words, I am a man without a party. It is sad and frustrating, and while I am not alone, it often feels like a lonely place to be.I am an outlier because I do not like the man who currently sits in the White House. I have never liked the man who sits there, so I do always preface discussions with that. I did not like him as a real estate developer in NYC, nor as a TV show personality, nor as a candidate, nor as the president. I have heard stories from people that know him and have never thought he was a good human being, long before all of this. That’s my full disclosure. But to say I cannot be objective about his behavior and policies, etc. is absurd. I have my opinions, and I also strive for truth and facts. I can see and hear things without any help from the news media. And I can formulate my own opinions and take on things.
When it comes to the president, I read his tweets, I listen to his interviews, with my ears and not my position (Rabbi Noah Weinberg) and I take it in. I approve the move of the embassy. I approve many policies supporting Israel, and I speak out against the anti-Semitism I see on the far right and within the White Supremacists, and just as strongly against groups like BDS and the reps on the left who peddle in that same hate.What I do not approve of is the behavior at the top, and the fact is that the means matter. Truly. Judaism teaches us to always do the right thing, to love our fellow man, to heal the world… and while there may be policies we love and want and need, we cannot and must not condone bad behavior.
We now exist in an America where the president used the military against peaceful protesters as a show of power, then strolled across Lafayette Square a photo op. Esper is trying to distance himself from this, and those in the military, who I deeply respect and honor, are horrified and don’t want politics in the midst.
But let me reiterate that… The President of the United States used violence and the military to deny Americans their right to Free Speech in order to stand in front of a church… not go inside and pray… and hold up a Bible… not open it, or read it, or even offer a passage from it!!! How are we okay with this???
Tanya, Pirkei Avos and Torah all teach us to behave morally and ethically. It is the very core of Judaism. It is ideally who we are as a people. It is what gives me such pride and naches. It is what makes me love and adore Judaism.
But we can no longer allow ourselves to be one-issue voters. We just can’t. Policy and policies aside, we are better than this. And after all, humanity, treating others well, and being a Mensch is what we are taught are the most important things. Period. Study, Service and Leadership… Torah, Avodah and Malchus.
He is not Jewish, but we are. But he does now has a Jewish daughter, a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren. And as Jews, we have our Torah, we have our books and we have our lessons. Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:3 teaches us this imperative lesson:
“Be cautious with authorities, for they offer service only for their own purpose, appearing as friends when they stand to profit, but not standing by one at his time of need.”
From all accounts, our president has never been a religious man, but he knows that is where a lot of his votes come from, and so he has enacted policy that is very pro religion. That’s a good thing. But going against the very teachings that are shared universally, and using a religious site as a backdrop and stage, and the Bible as a prop must not and cannot stand. Our brothers and sisters in the church are saddened and horrified and are speaking out. We cannot and must not be silent.
We are taught so many amazing things in Judaism and while this man is not Jewish, we cannot ignore that his behavior is anything but. And as Jews we must be able to speak out about it. It is no longer enough to simply white wash it by saying “I like the policies, but do not like his behavior.” It has gone beyond that, way beyond “bad behavior,” and lines continue to be crossed. When will it be enough to stand up and speak up and say no more?
Look at what General Mattis wrote the other day. Look at what true conservative George Will wrote the other day. The means matter, and it is not the policy that defines us, but how we get there. We are better than this. And as Jews we know what our responsibilities are… Tikkun Olam, my friends… Heal the world.
When will we come out of the trenches, and not let tribalism bury us? We know better, now we need to do better. This does not mean embracing those who hate Israel and are against her. It does mean doing the right thing… always. It does mean being Jewish (embracing the ideals and mitzvahs of Judaism) Americans (embracing kindness, generosity, life, liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all.)
I always go back to the famous quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller and the dangers of staying silent. And so I speak. And I hope and pray the community speaks up as well, because I do not want us to find ourselves on the wrong side of history, nor on the wrong side of this presidency. While I support certain policies, especially those towards Israel, I desperately wish it was someone else pushing them, someone with higher morals and ethics, someone who upholds what Torah teaches us.
We are witnessing a major upheaval in this country. First, with the pandemic, and now with racial injustice boiling over. While I have experienced anti-Semitism, I cannot say I have been pulled over or harassed for the color of my skin or on my appearance alone. I know that many other Jews have been, based on what they are wearing. So we should easily empathize and sympathize.
I support George Floyd and believe he was murdered. I support those who feel that justice does not apply to them in this country. I support those who are protesting and trying to make change happen and are fighting for equality and justice. I support those police officers who are doing their jobs, and who are good people, and not racist. I support the innocent store owners who are losing so much, due to crime and violence.
I do not support looting and crime and violence. I do not support lumping Jews into the mix and using this as an opportunity to hurt us and to bring out anti-Semitism and more hate. And I do not support holding a Bible as a prop, using it for political gain, and dismissing it when you are done. For it is the words within the covers that offer guidance and truth, wisdom and insight. It is the very blueprint for living. And for us that is the Torah… the “Bible.”
I often wonder why so many are so quick to defend him, and really, really defend him. I was at a loss to understand this, until someone much wiser than I am spelled it out perfectly. If people let a single chink in the armor be seen, it could unravel the entire suit, the entire presidency, and make all of the policies, many of which they love, go down in the same way. So they cannot admit that this president is dangerous and goes against the commandments and our very own teachings all the time. They won’t admit it, they can’t admit this, and this is a major problem.
For me, the Torah teaches so much, and part of that lesson is to speak up and speak out. The man who held it up the other day for a photo op does not believe in what is inside of it. But for those in the Church who do, they are hurt and betrayed. And while we do not agree on things with the “New Testament,” we do all believe in faith and justice and doing the right thing. At least I hope and pray we do, and that is why I must call out this behavior, for it is dangerous, it is divisive, it is harmful, and it will come back to haunt and hurt us, all of us, if we do nothing.
Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, said it best:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”