Bridging The Divides

Bridging The Divides

Our election coverage in this week’s edition of New Jersey Jewish News has been sparse, for a reason. Our press deadline was a few hours before the polls close in California on Tuesday, so these words are being written before a winner in the presidential race has been determined. 

As a result, analysis and commentary on the results of one of the most controversial and divisive election seasons in the 240-year history of our nation, as well as projections on how the results will affect both our local and national communities, will have to wait.

For now, we turn our attention to several other important matters that, of late, have been unfortunately neglected.

The unofficial theme of today’s NJJN issue could well be described as bridging the cultural divide. You’ll find a story on a Reform rabbi and the Muslim mayor of an Arab town in Israel who are working to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians (page 1); a group of teenagers who hosted a dialogue at Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit to address prejudice and bigotry (page 13); a rally at Rutgers sponsored by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations as a show of unity against hateful language (page 15); a rabbi in Livingston who was one of three interfaith leaders to address a conference, “Can’t We All Get Along? The Step Beyond Dialogue” at Seton Hall University (page 17); and a documentary on a fictional band that brought Israelis and Palestinians together (page 21).

In a way, the presidential election serves as a raucous backdrop to these issues. The harsh rhetoric coming from the campaigns has certainly been a driving force behind racial and ethnic clashes, politically and even physically, over the last year and a half. But unlike the election, which will, we hope, recede from the national consciousness in the coming months, the racial unrest and resentment that have emerged will linger long after the final votes are counted. 

Historically, when bigots have chosen to raise their voices under a mask of nationalism or religious fervor, Jews have been among the first to be singled out as scapegoats for all the ills that plague their host nation. Mercifully, aside from some fringe groups that have made noise by doing just that, for now the Jewish people have largely found themselves out of the firing line. 

Yet experience has taught us that, despite our being excluded from the minorities who’ve had to defend their religions and cultures, we’d be foolish to believe that Jews are immune to such unjustified criticism. We need only remember the haunting words of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller during the Holocaust:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

The American Jewish community has a long history of stepping up and speaking out for minority groups, both for its own interests in establishing alliances, and because our Jewish values call upon us to champion human rights for all. That notion goes back to the Torah, where God commands the Jewish people to remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt and to always look out for “the other.”

Surely, if we make an effort to develop relationships with those outside our communities, we will widen our circle of partners and allies, and fulfill the imperative to treat all God’s children with dignity and respect. 

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