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Second thoughts: post-election letters
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Second thoughts: post-election letters

Rabbi Shai Held
Dean, Mechon Hadar
Manhattan
Rabbi Shai Held
Dean, Mechon Hadar
Manhattan

Editor’s Note: At the suggestion of educator and columnist Erica Brown, a number of leading voices in the Jewish community were asked to write a letter reflecting their post-election thoughts:

Dear Mr. President-elect,

I bless you —sincerely — with an open and compassionate heart; a willingness to take seriously the impact of your words; an eagerness to hear others, especially those who are vulnerable and afraid; and a capacity for introspection and self-criticism.

During the campaign you often spoke in crude and vulgar ways — you began your campaign by demeaning many Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals”; you repeatedly spoke about immigrants and foreigners in ways that encouraged racist stereotypes; you suggested that an American-born judge could not possibly give you a fair trial because of his Mexican heritage; you openly mocked a physically disabled reporter, and disparaged females. The list, sadly, goes on and on. The Bible teaches us to love and protect the weak and the vulnerable, yet all too often you have broadcast only scorn and contempt for them. I implore you to fundamentally reorient the way you speak; to borrow language from the book of Psalms, if you are serious about uniting Americans, you must “guard your lips from speaking evil.”

You have also repeatedly winked at, and even retweeted, white supremacists. Now you have gone so far as to appoint a hero of the alt-right as your strategist. Mr. Trump, in the name of everything that is good and decent about our country, I ask you to condemn the hate, even and especially the hate you yourself have fomented.  

You have spoken in recent days of your desire to unite our fractured country; I pray that this hope is sincere. But let me not mince words: Should you follow through on the more heinous of your campaign promises — should you pursue children currently protected by the so-called Dream Act; should you in any way single out racial, religious, or sexual minorities for persecution, please know in no uncertain terms that Americans of conscience by the thousands and tens of thousands will fight you tooth and nail. We hope it does not come to that, but we have committed to vigilance, and we will not stand by while people are persecuted.

May you, and the office you will soon hold, be a force for what is good and righteous and just. Good luck to you. 

Rabbi Shai Held
Dean, Mechon Hadar
Manhattan

•••

Dear Friends Who Did Not Vote Like Me,

We used to boast of having a range of friends with different opinions – and learning from disagreements. What happened to us? When did we stop tolerating opposing viewpoints? When did we decide that competing partisans were racist, unpatriotic, evil? Why are we so quick to condemn those who disagree with us? 

Both our Jewish and American traditions encourage openness, acceptance, mutual respect — and the ability to laugh at ourselves and question ourselves. The Talmud encourages debate. The occasional cry of “taiku,” impasse, doesn’t express anger or frustration. “Taiku” celebrates both sides for honing arguments, disputing honorably.

Similarly, George Washington assumed that if his reason led him to certain conclusions, someone else’s reason could yield an opposing position. As president, he fostered “a spirit of accommodation” to advance our “common cause.” 

Healthy communities need cross-cutting loyalties. In the 1890s, ethnic and religious allegiances undermined class solidarity, saving Gilded Age America from becoming radicalized Europe. 

Let’s learn from New York’s legendary Mayor Ed Koch. He challenged constituents: “If you agree with me on nine of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

Traditionally, presidential transitions are magical democratic moments, emphasizing the patriotic bonds that unite despite partisan differences that divide. Even now, amid disagreements about Donald Trump’s suitability to be president, can we start modeling the civil patriotism we hope our children will learn from us, rejecting the angry, abusive, behavior many mimic from the blogosphere? 

Let’s talk — coffee’s on me.

Gil Troy
Professor of history
University of Haifa

•••

To My Friends and Family Who Voted for Hillary,

I know how disappointed and exhausted you must feel. It has been a long roller-coaster ride of an election season, and quite a revolting one at that. Being Jewish, I was born into liberal family. I believe in a woman’s right to choose and am for gun control. However, when I go into the voting booth, I do not believe that the survival of Israel is simply one in a number of items to choose from. It is difficult for me to fathom that anyone who knows the history of what has happened to our people within the last two centuries could actually think that way.

If our history has taught us anything, it is that our enemies mean business. 

The Iranian nuclear deal has paved a way for the Islamic state to have a nuclear bomb within 10 years, and that is assuming they don’t cheat.  We were promised that we would have “immediate slap back sanctions” if Iran violates the deal, which they already have. And the Obama administration has acted as a defense attorney for the Iranians. 

It is difficult to forget the 2014 Gaza War when missiles were raining down in Tel Aviv, and the promised hell-fire missiles were held up by Obama. Or the “chicken—- comment.” Or Hillary excoriating the Israeli prime minister for 45 minutes for building in a Jerusalem suburb.

We will all be upset if a woman’s right to choose will be thrown back to the states, but we will never forgive ourselves if something were to happen to the state of Israel.

Sarah N. Stern
Founder and president, Endowment for Middle East Truth
Washington, DC

•••

To My Trump-Supporting, Well-Educated, Privileged Friends,

 On the day after the election you said that those who felt so devastated should get over it and act like adults. You made it sound as if we are just being “sore losers.” It’s far more than that.   

America elected a man who has labeled all Muslims terrorists, who roiled up racism, and has around him people who keep company and provide succor to anti-Semites. He probably is not an anti-Semite, but he enables those who are.

At his rallies he called for dissenters to be beaten up. Toward the end of the campaign he saw a man whom he assumed was a Clintonite and said: “Get him out of here.” Trump reached that conclusion because the man was African American. That he was. But he was also a Trump supporter.

On election night a nine-year-old with a disabled sister woke up at 1:30 a.m. When he saw the results he sadly asked: “How could people vote for someone who makes fun of people like my sister?” Would you tell him that’s how adults behave?

How should women, particularly those who have been groped — and worse — respect a man who has spoken of grabbing women by the genitals? 

Yes, this is democracy and the protesters who did not vote should recognize that. They have no credibility in my eyes. But this is not a Kumbaya moment. I would suggest that the adult reaction is to be terribly troubled by this.

Deborah Lipstadt
Emory University
Atlanta

•••

Dear Hillary,

You planned on giving your acceptance speech at the Javits Center, a building purposefully selected because it has a glass ceiling. This was supposed to be a ceiling-shattering moment in our history. 

I am familiar with the phrase — women who work toward changing the status quo are referred to as “ceiling breakers.” We hit our heads against the establishment until there are fractures of light and hope shimmering through. And then we keep going, ignoring the accusations of “a feminist agenda,” or “destroying tradition,” when our intent is to simply serve the people.   

In an election that was not supposed to be about gender, gender became the undertone of so much of the discourse. Women were maligned and harassed. And you, Hillary, became both the symbol of transcending the gender divide, and the object of its demise. We no longer are faced with a glass ceiling, but now, we hit our heads against an unwavering solid cement ceiling. 

But I am not a pessimist. Most ceiling breakers cannot afford to be. And so, with your voice in mind, I have begun to wonder if in order to move forward from this tumultuous and divisive election, we need a new metaphor to change the status quo. One where there isn’t one person who is charged with the impossible task of breaking through, but where we join forces, men and women, and together march forward. If we only move vertically, we need to stand on one another’s shoulders, and only one of us will get there. But if we link our arms together, we will march toward a new reality, where we all walk forward with a renewed sense of responsibility to bring moral justice, love, and kindness into the world.

Rabba Sara Hurwitz
Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

•••

To My Grandson Ezra,

When you called me shouting, in your playful, hyperbolic way, “Bubbie, Bubbie, what are we going to do? Trump won! He won!” I was proud (that you got it) and sad (that you got it) and I haltingly assured you that everything would be OK. But Ezra, I just wanted you to feel OK.   

At nine, you may not yet understand that optimism and human creativity are at their peak when there is healthy balance between uncertainty and stability. If the uncertainty overwhelms us, we feel hopeless and despondent. But when disappointment and disagreement occur within an overarching framework of trust and stability, we are able to successfully navigate the discord.  

When you told me you had plastered 30 copies of a picture of President-elect Trump with a red line across his face all over your room, my stomach flip-flopped. I was proud of your idealism but rattled by the disrespect. Ezra, please take down those pictures, and, instead, write your future president a letter. Tell him that if he wants amazing kids like you to help him make America great again, he has to demonstrate that he will create a framework of trust and stability; that even though you are upset with him, you are willing to work on his behalf if he proves to be, at his core, a good guy. And for sure tell him that you once had 30 pictures of him all over your room — I know he’ll really like that. 

Bubbie Arna Poupko Fisher 
University of Cincinnati 

•••

Dear Dems,

Your hearts are broken, I know.

Our sages believed that the heart contained two chambers. Inside one were all the self-serving impulses that urged us to make families, build houses, amass fortunes and push the world ahead. Inside the other were all the altruistic impulses of service to others, compassion and generosity. They believed that neither was sufficient in and of itself. No matter how strong, a half-hearted effort was unsustainable.

Our expectations, we want to believe, were borne of altruism. The opposition, we want to believe, was entirely self-serving. When our hearts broken, so did our view of the world.

Now is not the time to give up. If anything, those baser inclinations that are directed at the vulnerable members of our communities give us the mandate to strengthen the human family, build up our houses, bank our good will and commit to the progressive values that move us forward, not backward to some imagined greatness. In that sense, we should be selfish and self-serving in response to discrimination and neglect.

At the same time, there will never be a more necessary time to be of service to others, to show compassion to those who are afraid and to be generous with your time and resources. So many of your fellow Americans believed their troubles would be over with the national election. They were wrong. They will hurt, just as you do.

No half-hearted efforts here. Heal your broken heart. Bind your wounds. Get back to work.

Rabbi Jack Moline
President, Interfaith Alliance
Washington, D.C.

•••

Next week: Responses from Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles; Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder and director of Machon Hadar; Steven Bayme, national director of the contemporary Jewish life department at the American Jewish Committee; Erica Brown of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership at George Washington University; and Dov S. Zakheim, former undersecretary of defense (2001-2004).

We welcome your post-election thoughts. Letters should be up to 300 words and sent to letters@jewishweek.org.

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