When my son was a baby he went to daycare. I was a single parent who had to work, so while it broke my heart to not be able to stay home with him, I found the best possible daycare I could, and went to work. He did well and thrived with the lovely women who took care of him. It was very hard on me, but not so much for him as he was only six months old and unaware he was in daycare. One day when Charlie was a little shy of two however, I took him to daycare and he was not having it. He had what can only be described as a catastrophic meltdown.
I tried to calm him down, they tried to calm him down, and before long we were both crying and inconsolable. The owner of the daycare came and tried to help, but it was a mess. After about 20 minutes they literally had to peel him out of my arms. He looked at me while screaming his head off, calling for me, and his eyes begging me not to go. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and spent the next hour talking to the owner of the daycare, telling her I was going to quit my job and Charlie would not be back. She told me it would be fine and said I should go to work.
There were no camera phones or video chatting back then, so I just had to leave, not able to see him or he would have lost it again. I waited out of sight for another two hours until he stopped crying. I then went to work and cried for the rest of the day. I could hear the seconds ticking away in my head like a time bomb until I was able to go get him. The recollection of that day for this blog makes me cry. I cry for my young self, newly divorced and raising a baby on my own, and I cry for all the mothers and fathers at the borders who are having their babies ripped away.
I had nightmares of my son screaming for a long time, and he was home with me. Imagine what the mothers and fathers at the borders are feeling not knowing where their children are. What are the children thinking while they are alone, on concrete floors, in cages, without their parents? It breaks my heart. I am devastated by what is happening at our border. Devastated as a mother and as an immigrant. I have been an immigrant 3 times in my life. Once when my parents left Israel after the war for England, and again when my family moved to Canada to build a life for us.
The third time was when I immigrated to the United States at the age of 24 to start my life over after surviving a violent crime. Important to note that I came here for vacation and never left. I stayed illegally for a year. Because I was from Canada, nobody batted an eyelash. I lived here in Los Angeles, worked illegally for cash under the table at a doctor’s office, and nobody ever asked me a single question. I then got engaged, got married, and was issued a Green Card. It was easy because of where I came from. I blended in and would do it all again to have left Canada when I did.
I understand why these people are risking their lives to escape from their homelands. I understand it, and frankly I support it. I believe people should be able to start over in a place that is safe and welcoming. I would do the same thing if it meant I could give my child a safe place to grow up and pursue his dreams. As for the people who say they are all dangerous killers and rapists who are taking our jobs, I can only shake my head and feel sorry for you at the same time I want to punch you in the face. Trump and his cold, heartless cult followers are crazy.
I am embarrassed by this administration. I am worried about the people who are being detained. I want to welcome every single child waiting to be reunited with their parents into my home for a hug, a bed, and simple kindness. I want to hug every parent who is praying to get the children back in the same way I was hugged at daycare. I want to understand how it is possible that people support this president and his dangerous and clearly failing mind. There but for the grace of God my friends. One of the blessings that comes with being blessed, is sharing your good fortune. As a county we should welcome people to share in our random good luck of being here already.
I’m guessing some dumbass Trump supporters will read this and contact the authorities to have me deported. It’s happened before and it will happen again. I find it quite entertaining. Almost 30 years ago I was an illegal immigrant so if they want to come for me, come on. I’ll wait here for you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Oy to the vey with these people. We can do better America. We are better. The only shot in hell we have to turn this around is to vote. VOTE. My message to those who were lucky enough to build a life here, remember your journey and where your family came from. We are a nation built by immigrants. We are what makes America great, so use your voice to vote. Make the journey easier for those coming after us, so they can keep the faith.
Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.
“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin
Israeli scholar Micah Goodman weighs in on the world’s most intractable conflict — and his ideas for a solution. He explains it all in his bestselling new book, Catch 67, which uses philosophical insights to tackle the Israel–Palestinian conflict.
“Everyone always talks about solving or not solving the conflict. What about shrinking the conflict?” -Dr. Micah Goodman
This was the least eventful AIPAC conference I remember, and I’ve been to many AIPAC conferences. It looked uneventful almost by design. The US President, a man of many talents – among which the talent to make headlines – did not attend. His VP visited Israel not long ago and had nothing much to add. Nikki Haley is a rock star, but let’s be honest: vilifying the UN at Aipac is an easy job. And then there is Prime Minister Netanyahu. He made headlines, but not here in Washington. If Israel goes to election soon, if Netanyahu is going to be indicted soon, these will all be post-Aipac events.
So, no major headlines were coming out of Aipac – is that good or bad?
On the one hand, it could reinforce the notion, shared by even some of the participants, that Aipac’s stage is not as important as it used to be in years past.
On the other hand, it could reinforce the message that Aipac clearly aimed to send this year: we are truly bipartisan, we are truly a place where a discussion can take place among people who have different views and still share a goal, or a love of Israel.
An uneventful political event in Trump’s America. Maybe that’s the headline. Maybe that’s what makes it unique.
From several conversations I had, I get the impression that the appeal to progressives in this conference was quite successful. It felt like a real attempt at inclusion, and at least some of the progressive participants were convinced that Aipac is genuine in trying to send a message of a broad tent. Of course, such message has benefit and a cost. It might result in a toning down, or even a watering down, the way Aipac deals with policy and legislation. It might result in enlarging the camp of people that are willing to identify with the organization and its goals.
The appeal to progressives also impacts the relations with Israel – and its quite conservative ruling coalition. Expressing fervent support for a two state solution is essential as you appeal to American progressives. But it will make certain Israelis wonder about Aipac’s priorities: Is it to support Israel, or to appeal to Americans who find it difficult to support Israel? For the time being, this question is not an urgent one, because no major conflict concerning negotiations with the Palestinians is on the horizon. But it still has the potential to become a thorny complication is Aipac’s way forward.
Earlier this week I wrote (in JJ’s Daily Roundtable – I assume you already subscribed to it) that in addition to the obvious reasons – Iran, Palestinians, Syria and Russia – Netanyahu came to Washington carrying two messages to his domestic audience. These messages are linked but are not exactly the same.
One – I am still functioning, and not too distracted by the ongoing investigations to be effective as a leader.
Two – I am indispensable. No Israeli has such standings in America and the world, no one can replace me and have similar success.
Did he succeed in carrying this message? I’d argue that he was upstaged by well timed events at home: a political crisis that could end his term, and the signing of yet another state witness against him. Since his meeting with Trump, and his Aipac speech did not result in a dramatic headline – his trip was not a huge domestic success.
I also wrote that yes, there’s a political angle, as we all understand, but that gossipy cynicism aside, Netanyahu’s plate of issues for this visit includes more than just domestic considerations. If a decision on the Iran nuclear agreement is about to take place, it better be coordinated. If a policy on the future of Syria is something the US is mulling, Israel’s input must be taken into account.
Two days ago, the NYT describes an “American strategic void” in response to Russia’s recent moves. This void worries Israel, and can be of great consequence for its security. Thus, the challenge for Netanyahu was a tricky one: to alert Trump to the need for a more robust US policy, without being seen as too critical or too pushy, as not to disrupt the good rapport between these two leaders.
Were you listening to PM Netanyahu’s speech? It was the sunniest I remember him ever giving. It this Bibi? Or maybe Shimon Peres’s ghost just came back to haunt us? The threats took a backseat to the opportunities. The bad news – there were bad news – took a backseat to the good news. I wonder if this was Bibi’s way to accommodate Aipac’s message to the delegates – or maybe his way to surprise, to keep the delegates awake – what the routine speech on the threat of Iran can no longer do.
One way or the other, it was a change for the better.
A note to readers: I was invited to speak at Aipac’s 2018 policy conference, and was happy to accept the invitation. My travel expenses were paid by the organization.
I wake up every morning and check the news. I do it with caution of course, because I never know what I’m going see, but I still look. I want to be informed about not only what is going on in Los Angeles, but the world. We are all in this together, and I want to be involved. I am curious by nature, and feel it is my obligation as someone who gets to share this earth, to be aware and help make the world better. We can all make a difference and seemingly little efforts still matter.
As I listen to what is going on in the world, and specifically in my own country, I can’t help but worry about the future. Things are a mess and we live in a political environment where we are also in danger. The unknown is scary and this administration worries me. I worry about what the future looks like for my son, who is about to turn 22, and is just starting his adult life. I worry about what the world will look like for the kids he will have one day. It is all very depressing, but needs to be thought about.
I am comforted and inspired by people who want to make thing better for all of us. I read something bad, then read about someone who is trying to make it better. I read about people doing bad things, then make sure to read about someone doing good things. I have to balance out the information I take in myself because I can’t rely on the media to do it. When we are surrounded by bad news, we owe it to ourselves to seek out good news. It makes life better when we are able to see both.
When I listen to my son talk about the world I feel better about things. He is a good man and is determined to not live his life on the sidelines. He is passionate about a lot of things and it makes me proud that he is making a difference. He is an inherently kind human being who cares about who he shares the planet with. On the darkest of days, I have hope because I know this young man will stand up for what is right and help those who need it. The good news is he is not a lone soldier.
I have a new assistant at work who is the same generation as my son. When we talk about things that are going on in the world, his view gives me hope. He sees the future in much the same way as my son and that makes me happy. This generation is frustrated and annoyed by what is happening in the world, and that is a great thing. They worry about their futures, but it is with determination to use their voices and talents to make things better. I am certain these young people will make things better.
I am going into Shabbat today with a sense of calm. I listen to the news and know there are people who will fight along side me for change. Our voices will join together and make ourselves heard. We can make things better if we the choice to do something, rather than just read the news and sit back and do nothing. We’ve got this people! Everything is going to be okay, just know it will get better, quicker, if we all step up. Have a great weekend. Think positive, be hopeful, do something, and remember to keep the faith.
I’m not one to make resolutions because they set us up for disappointment. Rather than put all my eggs in one basket on January 1st, I simply try to do my best each day. I say a prayer, cross my fingers, and try to be brave enough to take leaps of faith. It is easier said than done of course, but as long as I try I am proud of myself. It doesn’t matter if I accomplish everything I set out to, but it does matter that I put myself out there.
The past year was full of challenges and blessings for me. I have no complaints because everything led me to blessings. I am thankful for the life I have and grateful to have this platform to share myself with all of you. I have discovered over the many years I have been writing for the Jewish Journal that my life is better when my readers relate to my words and share theirs in return. We are all in this together and I value your input.
In 2018 I will write about my always entertaining yet pathetic dating life, my lack of a sex life, my empty nest, my weight, my fascination with the train wreck that is Leann Rimes, my faith, my religion, (faith and religion are not the same thing), becoming a vegan, my son, my cat, my hopes, my fears, my cancer, and everything else that comes along because there is nothing I won’t share with an open heart and a shot of tequila.
I am going to write more often, and not only about what is going on in my life, but what is going on in the world. There is a lot to say and while I have always been open and honest, I’m going to take things to a whole new level and really blog out loud with no fear and no filters. I am excited about a lot of things and sharing them with you is a blessing that continues to inspire me to keep the faith.
As we end 2017 and head into 2018, I thought I’d share some personal reflections on our modern political conversation, and how I see the Jewish Journal playing a role.
First, I may love politics and current events, but they do not own me. I like to follow the news, see what’s happening locally and around the world, study the threats to humanity’s future. Politics gets me pumped up. It builds up my outrage, makes me feel alive, as if I’m dealing with stuff that really matters.
So, why does the political conversation so often get on my nerves? Because I see what it does to people. It makes them hysterical. It breaks up relationships. It ignites anger and bitterness. At best, it keeps us in our silos and echo chambers, protected from views we cannot fathom.
My wish for 2018? To manage politics so that it doesn’t fray our communal bonds and bring out the worse in us.
Second, I know that politicians will never make me happy. My friends will make me happy. My family will make me happy. A great film will make me happy. Politicians will make themselves happy — with the perks and privileges that come with power — but they can never make me happy. Usually, they just disappoint me.
It’s true that politics plays a role in Judaism. Our tradition calls on us to make the world a better place. Since politics revolves around power, it follows that if we’re serious about repairing the world, we must engage with power. That’s why you see many rabbis address political issues from the pulpit. They see it as an expression of the Jewish imperative to pursue justice.
But that is not the whole story. We can do plenty of repair work on our own, without asking anything of politicians. This is called community engagement. The Jewish Federation system is an example of Jews taking control and responsibility for their communities. There are thousands of smaller examples of individual initiatives that aim to make the world a better place, politics or no politics.
Much of our community coverage at the Journal honors those efforts.
Third, the news doesn’t help us make sense of the news. Following the news, which comes at us fast and furious through our Twitter feeds, has become an addiction. At a gala dinner the other night, I couldn’t help looking at my phone when I received a piece of breaking news. The item was so juicy I had to share it with the person sitting next to me. This is not healthy.
I’m sure if we injected more news and current events in the Journal, we’d be more “juicy” and look more topical.
I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.
But when you have a publication that comes out once a week, it’s silly to try to compete with the daily news you get every minute. This is not a problem—it’s an opportunity. It means we can focus on deeper stuff, on commentaries and analyses that help you make sense of the news, not to mention the world we live in.
Fourth, there’s so much more to life than current events. It’s a common technique among columnists to quote current events in the opening paragraph to grab your attention. I do it often. It’s a way of showing immediate relevance by dealing with “what’s happening in the world.”
Of course, the Journal will never stop running columns that deal with topical events. But here’s a confession: Very often, my favorite columns are precisely those that do not deal with the latest news. These are the columns that convey timeless ideas that are relevant on any day or week… or century.
Politics today colors so much of our culture we can easily lose sight of how beautiful and pure culture can be. I love art, poetry, literature, music, film and human stories that have nothing to do with the state of the world. Their innate beauty is what makes them relevant.
Fifth, yes, crisis sells, which is one reason Judaism is always in a state of crisis. Everyone knows it’s a lot easier to raise money when you convey a state of crisis. At a time when it’s more and more difficult to get people’s attention, there’s nothing like a good crisis to shake people up.
In media, crises help attract more readers. It’s a known fact that you can boost your online views just by putting up words like “anti-Semitism” in your headlines. This is human nature. We are attracted to conflict. All good entertainment revolves around drama and conflict.
I can’t help being aware of this when I make editorial decisions. If there’s a story, for instance, about a swastika sprayed on a synagogue, it’s deadly serious and there is no hesitation to publish it. But there’s also that little voice inside me that whispers: “The readers will eat this one up.”
One of our biggest challenges at the Journal is to earn your attention without the easy tricks of crises, conflicts and disasters. How do we get you hooked on an idea that elevates the spirit, on a poem that makes you dream, on a biblical story that takes you back 3,000 years?
How does an abstract poem compete with the drama of a terror attack? Or a neighborhood story with the prospect of a presidential impeachment? Or an inspiring view of Hanukkah with the latest sex scandal?
They don’t. They can’t. The drama of conflict will always win out. Yes, it’s human nature.
But at its best and deepest, Judaism helps us transcend human nature. We go beyond our immediate appetites. We read the Hanukkah fable, or the dreamy poem, or the neighborhood story, even though they’re not as sexy as the latest political scandal. This content nourishes our minds, but also our souls: We enjoy beauty for beauty’s sake, story for story’s sake, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, wisdom for wisdom’s sake.
In a sense, I am conveying a militant message. I want us to fight back against the insidious and sensationalistic “breaking news” cycle that corrodes our conversations. I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.
Those are my wishes for our community, but they are also my wishes for the paper you are reading.
See you in 2018.
In November, 1953, less than a year into his first term in office, during the height of the McCarthy era, President Eisenhower received an award from and delivered the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual board meeting in Washington, D.C. As the story was recounted to me by someone who was there (I worked for the ADL for 27 years), those in attendance thought it would be a routine address by the new president making nice to one of the country’s leading civil rights/Jewish organizations, kind of a pro forma “you are nice and do good work”.
Shortly before the speech, ADL leaders learned that the national press and the then novel TV cameras would be observing and what was going to be routine was now a “major policy address.”
It turned out that the speech was among the, if not the, first times that Ike spoke out and distanced himself from Sen. Joe McCarthy. But it was by indirection, he never mentioned McCarthy’s name (to that point Ike was still trying to ignore McCarthy, as if the senator didn’t matter).
To those in attendance, it wasn’t clear what the news was, but by the next morning the message had gone out. Eisenhower had spoken about the right of every American to meet “your accuser face to face”, the “right to speak your mind and be protected in it.” He extolled the values of the “soul and the spirit” that make us proud to be Americans; who the threat to those values was became apparent:
Why are we proud? We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend–or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.
And today, although none of you has the great fortune, I think, of being from Abilene, Kansas, you live after all by that same code in your ideals and in the respect you give to certain qualities. In this country, if someone dislikes you, or accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow. He cannot assassinate you or your character from behind, without suffering the penalties an outraged citizenry will impose.
….I would not want to sit down this evening without urging one thing: if we are going to continue to be proud that we are Americans, there must be no weakening of the code by which we have lived; by the right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one; by your right to go to the church or the synagogue or even the mosque of your own choosing; by your right to speak your mind and be protected in it.
Ladies and gentlemen, the things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit. They are not the jewels we wear, or the furs we buy, the houses we live in, the standard of living, even, that we have. All these things are wonderful to the esthetic and to the physical senses. [Emphasis added]
I was reminded of this historic statement by two speeches this week from leading Republicans, who, like Eisenhower, bravely took on one of their own and made clear what others fear, or lack the courage, to say. They laid down markers as to what is acceptable conduct in American politics and, without being explicit, who was engaging in conduct that was beyond the pale.
On Monday night, Sen. John McCain spoke at the National Constitution Center as he received its Liberty Medal. It’s a passionate statement about what’s important and unique about America.
During the course of the speech he offered the following:
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to. [Emphasis Added]
Like Eisenhower, without mentioning the name of his antagonist, the senior senator from Arizona got his message across loudly and clearly.
Then on Thursday, former President George W. Bush delivered a speech in which he never mentioned Trump, but the sinner he was referring to was transparently clear:
Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.
We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.
We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.
This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.
We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.
In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. [Emphasis Added]
The McCain and Bush speeches are historic moments; perhaps the beginning of a wave of revulsion at the lies, distortions, hate and awful policies that emerge from the Trump White House. When two pillars of a party, much like Eisenhower in 1953, say enough is enough and that it is time to “step up”—perhaps people will listen.
Gun Rights Debate Continues
First of all, congratulations to the Journal for debating an issue that the Supreme court handed down a decision on almost 10 years ago (“Does the Second Amendment Guarantee the Right to Bear Arms?” Oct. 13).
Second, my admiration to Karen Kaskey for her very well-done arguments. In contrast: The best part of Ben Shapiro’s arguments is the headline: “Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality.” His analysis of the facts, though, is superficial and he fails to see the reality that modern society is not the same as it was 200 years ago. Everything in the universe, including American society, is subject to change. He doesn’t understand that the purpose of the constitution of any country is to serve its people and should be subject to change, as well.
As far as the Supreme Court decision on the issue: Yes, the court has the legal authority to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean justices can read the minds of those who wrote it. Nobody can.
Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles
Regarding Ben Shapiro’s column on the Las Vegas shooting (“Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality,” Oct. 13):
• Congress and the states have the legal authority to ban assault weapons.
• Polls show a majority of Americans want assault weapons to be illegal.
• Shapiro doesn’t even deal with the issue of assault weapons in his column. Instead, he changes the subject to a supposed effort to take away all guns from all citizens, which is untrue and irrelevant to the massacre in Las Vegas.
• Shapiro makes the lame conservative argument that because it’s impossible to stop all shootings, there’s no point in even trying. That makes as much sense as saying that I won’t lock the doors, windows and gates of my house because I can’t stop all burglaries.
• Conservatives love to say that the left can’t see evil when it’s staring them in the face and won’t act against it when they can. The real evil here is that conservatives are just fine with mass shootings, won’t do anything about them because they’re on the payroll of the gun industry, and callously thwart the desire of all Americans to feel safe from the threat of assault weapons.
Michael Asher via email
Leave Politics Out of the Temple
I was in shock when I read “Political Pundits Discuss ‘Trump’s America’ in Debate at Valley Beth Shalom,” (Oct. 13). First, this should never have been organized at this temple. I believe that there are tax consequences, aside from being very distasteful. Peter Beinart and David Frum are looney Jews talking trash about Trump.
Any normal person would be absolutely fed up with this constant line of crap! Trump is a racist, Trump is anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and on and on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valley Beth Shalom is losing membership. I know that other “liberal” temples are. Keep houses of worship just for spiritual purposes and leave politics at home!
Alexandra Joans, Los Angeles
Please add my name to those who feel the same as the “heckler” at Temple Israel of Hollywood (“Heckler Interrupts Kol Nidre Sermon,” Oct. 6).
Your “senior writer” seems to have given a new definition to the term heckler. Not long ago, “heckler” would conjure up a picture of someone sitting at length in an audience, making it rough on some budding entertainer.
Your reporter indicated none of that. The man got fed up with the narrishkayt and stated, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer.”
According to your reporter, he was not the only one disturbed by Rabbi John Rosove’s flights into “liberal political rhetoric.” Others voiced their displeasure that our synagogues were being turned into houses of rebellion against the government. He stated his protest — and left. “Stormed”? Tsk, tsk.
My wife and I “stormed” out of Temple Beth Hillel this past High Holy Days, demanding (and receiving) our money back, after the rabbi made sure that the congregation was apprised that Israel is an occupier, that it is non-egalitarian toward women who just want to pray at the Western Wall, that we should be magnanimous enough to welcome all in need to share our boundless country and, oh, yes, that the Reform movement has asked all Reform synagogues to “rise up against this [illegitimate] government.”
As your reporter quoted another irate citizen not afraid to buck the rising liberal nonsense, “We don’t need to listen to this bull—-!”
P.S. Apparently, neither do the fine people of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who pulled out of the movement for the same reason.
Steve Klein via email
Obviously, there were people attending the Kol Nidre service at Temple Israel of Hollywood who strongly felt that denouncing our president during the rabbi’s sermon was not appropriate — so much so that they walked out; and one man even spoke out in opposition as he stormed out of the sanctuary.
I agree with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple about keeping politics out of the synagogue. It is not intended to be a place for expressing political differences.
According to Wikipedia, “politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action, the conduct of decision-making for groups.” It serves to sway people’s allegiance.
On the other hand, a temple is “an edifice or place dedicated to the service or worship of a deity.”
Whether or not you like our president (I voted against him), the temple is a place for religious worship — certainly not intended for political denunciation of our president.
George Epstein, Los Angeles
Both Parties Leave the ‘Middle’ Behind
Karen Lehrman Block is completely right, but rather late (“Toward a Radical Middle,” Oct. 6). The “middle” (to which I belong, as well) was written out of the Democratic and Republican parties years ago, and I see no sign of it being able to return because its politicians have morphed into the “establishment” and are functioning only to their own benefit. That’s what Donald Trump ran against and that’s why he was elected.
Your first redesigned issue was excellent.
Stephen J. Meyers via email
Progressives Should Reconsider Their Ethics
In “Dancing With Darkness” (Oct. 13), David Suissa extols the personal freedom we enjoy in the United States, although it tragically enabled the Las Vegas massacre. American freedom has a particular resonance with Jews because it’s inspired by the Ten Commandments, which assert that true freedom requires moral behavior. The Founding Fathers were so profoundly aware of their Hebrew roots that the Liberty Bell’s sole inscription is from Leviticus; Ben Franklin’s original idea for the Great Seal of the United States was a depiction of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; and George Washington personally assured the fledgling Jewish community that its members were free and equal citizens.
Despite this history, progressives have for years condemned Christianity and Judaism, the latter by demonizing Zionism. Since turning their backs on Judeo-Christian ethics, progressives have become meaner and less tolerant, like the crowds who cheered Madonna when she mused about “blowing up the White House,” and Linda Sarsour when she praised a convicted terrorist murderer.
After the Las Vegas massacre, a young, Jewish CBS vice president declared she was unsympathetic to the victims because “country music fans often are Republican.” Progressive indoctrination, such as Hillary Clinton calling candidate Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” robbed this woman of her conscience and empathy.
Hopefully, the Harvey Weinstein scandal will lead progressives to reconsider their values, or we may well forfeit the freedom our ancestors died for.
Rueben Gordon, Calabasas
Good Luck, David Suissa
Congratulations to David Suissa on his new role as editor-in-chief of the Journal. The most recent Journal already shows that there is a changing of the guard and a new leadership reflecting a new light shining on different aspects of Jewish life, Israel and the world.
I have been a longtime reader of the Journal and I want to wish you much success in your new position. Go from strength to strength.
Leila Bronner, Los Angeles
At a recent meeting of our book club, we were discussing a novel about a self-loathing comedian when the conversation veered into politics. The guys in the club all are Jewish and about the same age, though our careers and backgrounds vary broadly.
Our host, whom we’ll call “Larry,” turned to “Jake,” who’d just defended President Donald Trump, and said, “You sound like the yahoos we fly over.”
I said, “Larry, you can’t mean that. You’re insulting half the country just to belittle Jake.”
“Sure, I can. They voted for the chief yahoo.”
“Let’s stick to the debate,” I replied. “We all understand that you disagree with Jake on Trump’s immigration policy. I challenge you to articulate Jake’s best argument in a manner to which Jake will say, ‘Yes, that’s my belief.’ ”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because that’s the only way you’ll ever get Jake to listen to your best argument with an open mind.”
“Exactly,” chimed in another guy.
“That’s ridiculous,” Larry said. “I’m not going to argue for the opposite of what I believe.”
“Come on, Larry,” said our oldest member, “you can do it.”
Did Larry argue the other side? Would you if you were in his shoes?
The stakes have never been higher. Americans are passionately divided over a growing number of issues. Friendships are ending and family ties are bursting because we fear for the country’s future. It seems everyone has a core issue — or two or three — that they’re ready to shout and fight about.
At a time like this, we can benefit greatly by recalling a 2,000-year-old episode from the Talmud:
R’Abba said in the name of Shmuel: for three years the followers of Shammai and the followers of the Hillel debated each other. These said the law follows their view and those said the law follows their view.
Keep in mind that this was not an academic argument. The disputants believed the destinies of their countrymen’s eternal souls were at stake.
A heavenly voice went forth and declared: Both these and those are words of the living God, but the Law follows the House of Hillel.
Now, if these and those are both the words of the living God, why did the House of Hillel merit to fix the Law according to their view?
Because they were easy and forbearing, and they would study both their opinion and the opinion of the House of Shammai. And not only that, but they would state the opinion of the House of Shammai before their own (Eruvin 13b, B. Talmud).
Now, maybe we hold like Larry in a debate of national importance, or maybe we hold like Jake. Either way, if our purpose is to do more than vent, virtue-signal or commiserate with the choir, it would behoove us to advocate like the House of Hillel. This means catching the attention of folks across the aisle by demonstrating that we’ve heard, understood and considered their best arguments. Only then will our own views have a chance to be heard, understood and considered by the people we think must hear those views. That, in my view, is where progress begins.
As for what happened at the book club, Larry declined to state Jake’s opinion with anything but sarcasm — the least effective strategy for opening any heart or mind.
Two weeks later, however, Larry and I were playing golf. As we walked up a fairway, he said, out of nowhere, “I’ve been thinking about your challenge at the book club. I was nothing but belligerent, and I missed an opportunity. Next time, I’ll articulate the other side.”
May our community merit to evolve as much as my friend Larry.
Salvador Litvak shares Jewish wisdom with his followers every day as the Accidental Talmudist (accidentaltalmudist.org).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President George W. Bush discussed both regime change for the Republic of Iran and the pre-emption of its nuclear program.
By 2003, Iran had procured equipment necessary for nuclear weapons development and had conducted hydrodynamic experiments, cast and shaped uranium metal into hemispheres for a nuclear implosion device and achieved a sophisticated nuclear weapon design. It had conducted nonfissile explosive testing in a containment chamber; developed and tested exploding bridgework detonators; manufactured neutron initiators used to start a fission chain-reaction in a nuclear weapon; and drafted 14 workable designs for a nuclear weapon to fit inside the re-entry vehicle for the high-explosive warhead of Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range missile.
Not only that, it had developed fusing systems for a nuclear missile warhead to perform a ground-burst or high-altitude burst above 3,000 meters.
Despite all this, in 2009, new President Barack Obama — lacking any military experience, national security expertise or real-world business negotiation skills — secretly plotted rapprochement with Iran, which was part of Bush’s “axis of evil.”
Obama falsely asserted that his outreach to the mullahs occurred only after the 2013 election of supposed moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, to curry favor with Tehran, the Obama administration abandoned the dissidents of the 2009 Green Revolution and twisted American foreign policy during the brutal Syrian civil war, failing to enforce the red line after President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
While Tehran carved “Death to Israel” inscriptions on its bombs, Obama repeatedly tilted against the Jewish state, “creating space” between the U.S. and our closest moral and military ally in the region.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal rewarded a terror state, solidified mullah theocratic rule, deflated and endangered Iranian dissidents, and, astonishingly, gave Iran billions of U.S. dollars in unmarked cash, without congressional knowledge or approval. These funds fuel Iran’s nefarious roles in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council’s increased support of Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, and renewed alliance with Sunni Hamas in Gaza, all under a potential Iranian nuclear umbrella.
The Persians — who invented the ultimate game of strategy, chess — saw Obama’s ambitions for a grand deal and craftily negotiated both an end to international economic sanctions and new business contracts from European companies.
The Obama administration conducted a self-admitted propaganda campaign to smear deal opponents, even questioning the dual loyalty of American Jews. Ben Rhodes, a failed short story creative writer with no national security credentials, became Obama’s apologist in chief, proclaiming the 58 U.S. Senators who voted against the deal part of a “blob,” and admitting he made up a “narrative” that the media lapped up.
Barely avoiding a 60-vote rebuke, Obama’s Iran legacy is a Neville Chamberlain-like piece of paper, an appeasement that also signaled weakness to the North Korean dictatorship.
Netanyahu has said, “Iran has become more dangerous since [the deal] was signed, is better funded, and has sponsored more terrorism.
“Now they are going to build ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the U.S. and have the multiple warheads to do that. That is horrible. It is dangerous for America, dangerous for Israel and dangerous for the Arabs.”
President Donald Trump decried it as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. … My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.”
Every 90 days the president must decide whether to certify the following four conditions related to the nuclear deal:
• Iran is fully implementing the agreement and all related agreements;
• Iran has not committed a material breach with respect to the agreement or, if it has, it has rectified that breach;
• Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program;
• Sanctions relief is “appropriate” to Iran ending its illicit nuclear program and “vital to the national security interests” of the U.S.
According to congressional testimony in April, Iran has failed to implement the deal and its related agreements on export controls, centrifuge development, procurement, International Atomic Energy Agency access, ballistic missile development, conventional arms activities, heavy water, enriched uranium amounts and levels, and natural uranium imports.
North Korea’s “No. 2” official, Kim Yong Nam, visited Iran to boost prohibited military trade, and Tehran has opened up new arms routes to Yemen, Syria and Russia. And recently, top Iranian political and military officials admitted they launched the Khorramshahr ballistic missile, with multiple warheads and a 1,250-mile range that can reach Israel.
The Iran nuclear deal was a fraud from the start, empowering a tyranny and its continuing deceptive activity, and giving the United States and our allies nothing in return except the contempt of Tehran. It’s time to decertify it.
Larry Greenfield served as executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
It is no secret that President Donald Trump does not like the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He has twice certified Iranian compliance with the agreement. He must decide whether to do so again by Oct. 15.
Two years after its negotiation, the agreement is working. Every other signatory, including our European partners, believes Iran is adhering to its side of the bargain. The agreement is not perfect, but Iran is no longer on the brink of being able to produce a nuclear weapon as it was just over two years ago. The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued multiple reports confirming Iranian compliance, and credible nuclear nonproliferation experts are in agreement. Even Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran is in compliance, despite his continued valid concerns about Iran’s regional behavior
But the JCPOA was not about changing Iran’s overall behavior — it was about stopping Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. To recap, the basic contours of the agreement required Iran to reduce significantly its enriched uranium and plutonium capabilities (the possible pathways to a bomb) in exchange for the United States and other world powers removing nuclear-related economic sanctions
The agreement has not made Iran a responsible regional player. It continues to meddle in regional politics. Iran’s support for Hezbollah is a particular concern. But imagine how much worse it would be if Iran, like North Korea, were nuclear-armed. Decertifying the JCPOA will do nothing to improve Iranian behavior, and it might even make it more difficult to rally international support to counter troubling Iranian activities. Indeed, one result of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric at the United Nations was to convince the world that, if the agreement were to fail, it would be America’s — not Iran’s — fault.
Some argue that the agreement can go on without the U.S. But over the long term, the agreement is unlikely to survive decertification. If the president fails to certify, Congress must decide whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, which would violate the agreement. Maybe the administration could convince Congress to withhold sanctions, but it would be a strange case to make after claiming the deal isn’t serving the U.S. interest and Iran is in violation. The congressional record of voting overwhelmingly in favor of sanctions against Iran would not instill confidence that Congress would pass up the opportunity to punish Iran once again if given the opportunity.
Even if Congress did not reapply nuclear-related sanctions, the spectacle in Washington would create such economic uncertainty and political pressure within Iran that its incentives to continue adhering to nuclear restrictions would decrease. If Iran responds by failing to adhere to the strict safeguards of the JCPOA, putting global sanctions back in place would be almost unimaginable, particularly if the international community perceives the U.S. as responsible for unraveling the agreement.
This would be the worst outcome — Iran’s returning to a troubling nuclear program with weakened international resolve to challenge it. The advantages of the JCPOA, particularly regular and intrusive inspections and monitoring, would be lost. With the United States out of the picture, the possibilities are either the end of the JCPOA or a weaker agreement.
The suggestion that decertifying would increase U.S. leverage to renegotiate and strengthen the agreement is unrealistic at best. The Europeans, Russians and Chinese oppose renegotiation. Europe may be willing to discuss areas of concern like Iranian missile development and sunset clauses, but only if the administration accepts the JCPOA as the starting point. Continuing to adhere to the JCPOA will put the U.S. in a better position to lead such efforts; bolting from the JCPOA will ensure that negotiations for add-on agreements are dead in the water. Why would European partners, let alone Iran, discuss new agreements if they don’t believe the Americans lived up to the initial deal?
In 2015, fears and predictions about how things might unfold were speculative. Today, we know that the JCPOA is achieving its only stated aim: to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. This is the judgment of nearly the entire international community. Why would the U.S. want to needlessly isolate itself, generate new risks of nuclearization and create a crisis of its own making with no clear return?
Dalia Dassa Kaye is the director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp.
Some local rabbis have shunned the idea of bringing politics to the pulpit, but Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood is not one of them. About five minutes into his Kol Nidre sermon on Sept. 29, the beginning of Yom Kippur, Rosove had already denounced President Donald Trump by name when a man stood up and shouted his displeasure.
“This is supposed to be a house of prayer!” the man said as he stormed out of the sanctuary, according to multiple eyewitnesses.
After a brief pause, Rosove resumed his sermon. When he finished, most of the audience of about 1,200 that had gathered for one of Judaism’s holiest ceremonies responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation in support of his remarks.
The incident at Temple Israel comes amid continuing debate among American rabbis as to whether the sanctuary should be a place of refuge from today’s confrontational politics.
In a Journal op-ed in June headlined “Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple urged his peers and community members to keep politics out of the synagogue.
“All we hear all day long is politics,” he wrote. “Can we not come to shul for something different, something deeper? I want to know what my rabbi thinks of Jacob and Rachel, not of Pence and Pelosi.”
The op-ed elicited a number of responses, including from prominent rabbis such as Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR and Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Brous argued in an op-ed printed in the Journal that the Torah is inherently political.
“This sacred scroll recounts the story of a band of slaves rising up before the most powerful and iconic ruler of the ancient world and demanding freedom and dignity,” she wrote. “Is that not a political message?”
Rosove’s sermon, titled “We the People,” put him firmly on one side of the debate. Drawing on quotes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr., Genesis and the Jewish prophets, he argued “that there’s a battle being waged for the soul of this country; that there are dark forces of hate, bigotry, intolerance, extremism and xenophobia that are aided and abetted by our nation’s president.” (The text and video of the sermon can be viewed at tioh.org.)
Reached by phone, Rosove said the man who interrupted his sermon was not a member of the temple. He declined further comment. Several longtime Temple members contacted by the Journal said they did not know the man.
After the applause for Rosove died down at the end of the sermon and cantorial soloist Shelly Fox led the gathering in singing “This Land Is Your Land,” the rabbi returned to the pulpit to defend the nature of his homily in light of the man’s comment.
“A house of prayer has windows that look into the city, and any synagogue without windows is not a synagogue, because we are not divorced from the reality of the world,” he said, paraphrasing the Talmud.
“This is supposed to be a house of prayer!” the man said as he stormed out of the sanctuary, according to multiple eyewitnesses.
The members of Rosove’s congregation contacted by the Journal came to his defense.
David Lehrer, a Temple Israel member and former Los Angeles regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that after hearing Rosove’s sermon, he emailed him, writing: “It would be spiritual malpractice to let the High Holidays pass and not comment on what has happened to our country and what we should be doing.”
Thelma Cohen Samulon, a past president of the temple who attended the Kol Nidre service, said the outburst “caused me a moment of anxiety, and I was very pleased that the rabbi kept going, and he really didn’t miss a beat.”
Samulon and others said the heckler may have been the same person who, during the Rosh Hashanah service when audience members volunteered what they were grateful for from the past year, took the microphone and answered, “Trump.”
The man was not entirely alone in expressing his disapproval of Rosove’s Kol Nidre sermon. Just before his outburst, a woman walked out, quietly telling those seated next to her: “I don’t need to listen to this bull—-.”
A few others — perhaps less than a dozen — were also seen leaving the sanctuary, although their reasons for heading for the exits were not known.
Wally Knox, an attorney and former Democratic state Assemblyman from 1994 to 2000, said he could not remember in his 30 years of membership at Temple Israel a standing ovation for a rabbi’s sermon.
“There’s a recognition that we’re living in extraordinary times,” Knox said. “For one, I was proud to hear John speak up.”
The synagogue in Charlottesville, bracing itself for the Nazi rally planned in late August, requested a police presence to protect worshippers on Shabbat morning. You may have heard: the police failed to send even a single officer, so the synagogue hired a private armed security guard to stand in front of the building. As Nazis paraded by, waving swastika flags, they shouted, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil.” Learning that Nazi websites had specifically posted a call to burn the place, congregants left out the back exit and removed the sifrei torah from the premises. It’s true that law enforcement was busy that weekend, but also confounding that they would fail to understand the particular threat neo-Nazis pose to Jews.
I’ve never given a High Holy Day sermon on antisemitism. It’s not that it wasn’t a problem before Charlottesville: it’s that there were always bigger, graver, more urgent problems. As Jews in an America facing moral crisis, plagued by racism and white supremacy, poverty, inequality and climate denial, I didn’t want us to focus primarily on our own victimization. Instead, I wanted to draw our attention to the ways in which Jews were called to engage as a fairly privileged segment of a broader culture. I still believe all of that, but this year I wanted to start with antisemitism both because it’s taking dangerous new shape in America, and because antisemitism is bound up in the broader challenges facing our country. Very simply: the way that the Jewish community addresses antisemitism today matters.
They say that antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred—and its most pernicious manifestations, in Europe, left that land drenched in our people’s blood. Massacres, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, libels and ultimately gas chambers stand in eternal testimony to the danger of hatred fueled by church and state alike. James Carroll recently described antisemitism as “the bug in the software of the West,” that insidious, ever-present illness that excludes Jews from moral concern and allows for heinous crimes like the Holocaust to happen.
Antisemitism caused holy hell in Europe. In America, it has been ever-present, but it has never brought the same kind of existential risk that we confronted elsewhere. Thank God. For Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab lands, even the cold embrace of America was a welcome contrast to the storm of bloodthirsty hatred overseas. Yes, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam called Jews “deceitful… repugnant… enemies and blasphemers.” Yes, we suffered a century of discrimination in employment, housing and education. The lynching of Leo Frank, wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, is seared into the Jewish collective conscience, and yes, Henry Ford funded mass distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We must not downplay the sharp immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations and Jewish exclusion from American social, educational, political and economic life in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was derisively referred to as the “Jew Deal,” and the SS St. Louis was mercilessly turned away and nearly 1000 Jews seeking asylum from Nazis were sent back, most to their deaths. We must remember to teach our children about the prohibitive housing covenants that restricted where Jews could live, and I will always remember the mix of confusion and shame I experienced as a child learning that two of the three country clubs in the New Jersey suburb I grew up in had strict “No Blacks, No Jews” policies.
Yes, we constantly joke about (and I hope also take seriously) the need to have our passports updated. And many of us still quietly note potential Nazi escape routes when deciding on a new home. But have we not come to feel pretty safe and comfortable here?
In America, Jews have achieved unprecedented prominence in nearly all sectors: political, social and financial. Here we have become Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Professors and Chief Oncologists. A few years ago, the mayors of the three largest U.S. cities were all Jews– one of them is a member of our own shul. Several years ago, when David and I walked into the Hanukkah party in the White House, I cried watching the West Point cadets, wearing kippot, sing “Ma’oz Tsur”—certain that my Grandma Harriet never could have dreamt of such a thing.
Yes, America has been good to us. So good that maybe we’ve forgotten a little bit who we are.
So good that many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti- Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Failed to speak out against White Nationalist sympathizers– men who have trafficked in antisemitism and racism for years—becoming senior White House officials. Failed to protest when—again and again—our deepest Jewish commitments—care for the stranger, the poor and the vulnerable—have been thrashed about in a political tempest that demands outrage and resistance.
So good that somehow, Jewish senior cabinet members silently abided the President of the United States as he delivered one of the most damning equivocations in modern history, revealing a profound and disturbing inability to simply say: “There is no place for Nazism and white supremacy in this country. Take your hatred and get off our streets.”
What has happened to us?
I was recently asked in high-profile interview: “Why isn’t the Jewish community more involved in the struggle for the rights of targeted minorities in this country? Given your history, you’d think Jews would be on the front lines!”
My initial reaction: what are you talking about? We’re fighting with all we’ve got! Of course, I told her about all the Jews deeply involved in multi-faith and racial justice work today, about the electrifying presence of Jewish activists on the street, opposing efforts threatening the rights and dignities of Muslim and Mexican and LGBTQ allies and neighbors. Standing strong in solidarity and friendship. I spoke of how proud I was of our own community, with our inexhaustible Minyan Tzedek leadership inspiring folks to step up in strategic and meaningful ways. I talked about how Jews are on the front lines, fighting for democracy, equality and justice.
But even days later, I couldn’t get her question out of my head. What made her think the Jewish community wasn’t involved? And then I realized: who are the dominant voices in our community shaping the public perception?
There’s Israel’s Prime Minister, who frequently claims to speak for the Jews, who has repeatedly given cover to, indeed warmly embraced, this President, even after his most egregious missteps. There’s the Prime Minister’s son, who, in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, was the banner photo on the neo- Nazi Daily Stormer website after posting a classically antisemitic cartoon on his Facebook page. There are the President’s own family members, observant Jews, who have their rabbis contorting themselves to permit them to fly on AirForce One on Shabbat… I wonder: did they seek rabbinic dispensation for their silence in the face of the Muslim Ban, the rescinding of DACA, the ban on transgender people in the military? And of course, there are the unelected, self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish Establishment, funders and organizational heads who will, of course, decry Nazism, but fail to call out the clear and present role of the administration in normalizing white supremacy and antisemitism, for fear of falling out of favor.
Do you think I’m overstating the point?
I wonder how many here know the difference between white supremacy and White Nationalism? I didn’t, until I started reading and listening to Eric Ward, an African-American senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been sounding the alarm on the difference between the two. White supremacy is an ideology of racial superiority and subjugation of people of color built into this country’s DNA. The much newer White Nationalism is a radical social movement committed to building a white-only nation. And antisemitism, Ward argues, is the beating heart, the fuel that moves the engine of White Nationalism.2 Thus, the conflation of Nazi and White Nationalist symbols and aspirations in Charlottesville: this is a movement modeled after Nazi Germany whose goal is to eradicate Jews and people of color from the country.
In his thirty years of studying and fighting White Nationalism, Ward says he has not seen the movement operating at such a level of sophistication as we’re now seeing. It has been simmering, he says, waiting for an opportunity. And now the perfect storm has occurred.
Derek Black, the now-estranged son of the Grand Wizard of the KKK explains: White Nationalists expect to be condemned by everyone. Every elected official knows it’s political suicide not to condemn Nazis and White Nationalists. Until one Tuesday in August when the President of the United States could bring himself only to say: “You had some very fine people on both sides.” According to Black, that was a huge victory for White Nationalists. “Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement.”
Make no mistake: not only was that Tuesday in August the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement, it was a critical moment, potentially a turning point moment, for Jews in America. Because suddenly, in one press conference, America turned from a place, like so many, with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state.
Yes, these people, with their menacing hatred born of fear and ignorance, with their contorted faces and their murderous chants, they who play softball with words and symbols that cut to the heart of our people’s trauma, they who worship the statues—literally idols to an American past that degraded and dehumanized millions of Black Americans—they are the ones with whom the administration found sympathy.
Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum—it is the inevitable outcome of racism being met with anything short of forceful, explicit condemnation. There’s a reason white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in streets this summer. They didn’t feel they had anything to hide… because this time they marched with nods of approval from the highest offices in the land.
There have always been angry white men who have held some kind of erotic fascination with Hitlerian symbols, who get high off of and may even kill for their Jew-hatred. But we know from history that the real danger comes when antisemitism is supported by the state. That’s what makes this moment different.
That’s what’s at stake when well-intentioned leaders ignore the whitewashing of Jews from Holocaust remembrance and remain silent at the suggestion of moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.
Mind you, these are some of the same Jewish leaders who continue to sound the alarm daily on any hint of antisemitism in the racial justice movement, where it does rear its ugly head all too often. Our allies on the left need to know who they’re getting in bed with when they dabble in, enable and give license to antisemitic trope. But it is communal malpractice to focus our collective outrage and resources on the left while excusing, minimizing and even ignoring antisemitism from the one place it’s ever presented an existential threat to our people: the armed and state-supported far right. As if BDS, problematic as it is, poses a greater danger to the Jewish people than Nazis emboldened by the President of the United States.
Is it wealth and power that have caused this misalignment? Is it our dependence on a few mega-donors who essentially control the public agenda of the Jewish community? I wonder: is it our voice, or our will that we’ve lost?
Listen to the terrifyingly prescient words of Hannah Arendt, written in 1942: “…Our people—those who are not yet behind barbed wire– are so demoralized by having been ruled by philanthropists for 150 years that they find it very difficult to begin to relearn the language of freedom and justice.”
Is that how we, too, have forgotten to see the world through prophetic eyes? Forgotten that we’re called “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is that how, only 70 years after our greatest tragedy, with the words “Never Again!” still emblazoned on our hearts and the walls of our institutions, we somehow find ourselves downplaying the danger of a regime that rose to power stigmatizing vulnerable minority populations and daily manifests disturbingly fascistic tendencies? Is “Never Again” just an empty promise?
Or is it that we now can only see through one lens: “Is it good for Israel?” As if it is in any way conceivable that an America that is profoundly morally compromised is good for Israel. How could we, who measure time in millennia, be so utterly myopic?
For 70 years, our driving force as a community was vigilance to antisemitism. Forgive us, but witnessing the near extermination of your people tends to leave an impression. Yes, much of our communal obsession was rooted in trauma. Some of it also came from the realization that there was no greater adhesion than shared terror; if we kept front and center others’ eternal hatred of us, we’d stick together in a country that offered more open doors, more access and more ability for many Jews to pass than any we’d previously inhabited.
So from trauma and fear, we set off five star alarms every time a swastika appeared on a school desk. For 70 years, we led with the threat of existential crisis—precisely, ironically, as our community grew to be the strongest and most secure we’ve ever been, anywhere in the world.
But now, as the smoke of antisemitic hatred fills the classroom, we’re asking the students to please stay calm and remain seated, because we don’t want to cause a stir. No need to threaten political alliances. Let’s not misconstrue bombast as ideology! And, by the way, why should I be worried if the Prime Minister of Israel is entirely unconcerned?
It’s no wonder the growing alienation of young people from the institutions our grandparents built. We desperately need a new play book.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for soul examination. It’s also a time for us to examine at the soul of our community and our nation. We do this in the hopes that some clear-headed thinking might help us figure out where our bruises and blind spots are, and what we can do to move forward.
In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. What Dr. King was taken by was not the fact that Rip slept for 20 years, but instead “that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”
“There are all too many people,” King said, “who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”
In a few moments, we’ll hear the sound of the shofar, calling us to awaken from our slumber. This is the central moment of the Rosh Hashanah experience. Think of what it means that our tradition places an alarm clock right at the heart of the new year celebration. It’s as if the spiritual architects of our tradition understood one critical fact about human beings: we will sleep through the revolution. It’s human. But then Rosh Hashanah bursts into our September, shaking us awake, reminding us that sleeping while the world burns is simply not an option.
Last year, the shofar came as a jolt in the night, calling us to grapple with our nation’s moral crisis, to defiantly lift our gaze toward a politics of aspiration. The year before, the shofar was a call to action: to pair our broken hearts over three-year-old Aylan Kurdi in his tiny sneakers with some real effort on behalf of Syrian refugees.
Some years, the blasts of the shofar free us from the folly of presumed powerlessness. Some years, they come to awaken us from our privileged detachment. And some years, it’s about recalibration—a call back to our core values and true purpose.
Chants of “Jews will not replace us!” are our wakeup call this year. It’s our task to walk away from Charlottesville with a renewed sense that we were put here not to be comfortable, but to be prophetic.
Remember Joseph, thrown by his brothers into a viper pit and sold into slavery in Egypt? Abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him, Joseph is disoriented, dislocated, forced to rebuild his life in a land not his own.
But through some mix of grit, luck and divine intervention, this slave quickly rose in the ranks working וַיְ הי י ֵסף יְ ֵפה־ for the powerful Potiphar, giving him respect and authority. Until the Torah tells us that Joseph was well built and handsome (Gen 39:6). That’s a strange comment for the ת ר וי ֵ פה ַמ ְר אה׃ Torah, so sparse with words, to make. (This isn’t a Tinder profile, it’s the Book of Genesis. What’s going on here?) Rashi explains: As soon as Joseph began to gain power and influence in Potiphar’s home, he started to eat and drink and curl his hair. This infuriated the Holy One, who cried out: Your father mourns for you and you’re curling your hair? Has all this power and luxury made you forget who you are? You’re so enamored by Egypt that you’ve forgotten your people, their suffering, your destiny? Do you think this is what you are here for?
Nehama Leibowitz describes that Joseph then found himself on the brink of spiritual disaster. “The plight of the poor and downtrodden exiled from their land is difficult enough,” she writes, “but doubly dangerous is the plight of one who achieves favor in the eyes of his masters so that they advance him for their own needs to the highest of positions.”
And it was in that moment that God plotted Joseph’s fall from grace.
Privilege, comfort, abundance: these are all great blessings. If we’re paying attention, the shofar wakes us up before they become curses.
So what can we do? I’m going to suggest three things.
First, we—the Jewish community—have to be clear and honest about the dangers we’re facing today. We cannot sugarcoat this. Especially in a time of all-out assault on truth, we have to speak openly and clearly about the threat. We need to hold our leaders accountable: this is not a moment for normalizing, justifying or hedging. Timothy Snyder warns that “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” Anticipatory obedience is when regular people voluntarily compromise on small values or principles, signaling to a regime how willing they are to conform to new standards. The problem is that eventually, it’s simply too late to stand up and resist. We cannot be party to this.
Second, we have to get creative and we have to be bold. On one hand, you heard about the 2014 counter-protest to the annual Nazi march in Bavaria, when residents sponsored the marchers in what they called Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon,” festooning the town in pink banners, throwing confetti at the Nazi marchers and encouraging them to keep walking because every meter brought in donations to an organization promoting defection from extremist groups. Inspired by this model, we did something similar last year when the antisemitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church protested outside this building, raising thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.
And at the same time, we have to be bold in our thinking and organizing, particularly around the advancement of racial healing in this country. We have to commit to helping America make teshuvah— reckon with and reconcile our nation’s past. I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to take the vulnerability that we felt from Charlottesville, in Ruth Messinger’s words, the “body shock” of seeing Nazis on US soil, and renew our commitment to join forces with other marginalized and vulnerable people in the US. Many of these communities have far fewer resources and are more directly and dangerously targeted than the Jewish community. What I’m suggesting is that at precisely the moment that we Jews feel most vulnerable in America, we need to turn to our Muslim, Latino, Black, Sikh and immigrant neighbors and double down on support, solidarity and love.
It is precisely in our moments of greatest danger that we must affirm exactly who we are. Now we need to lead with the Jewish values that are the air we breathe, that give us both life and reason to live. Now we must remember that we were put in this world to bring a message of justice and love, that the memory of degradation, dehumanization, near extermination lives in our bones, calling us to work to transform the societies we live in. Our goal is not to eat, drink and curl our hair. Nor is it simply to survive. We are called to a higher purpose, to be bearers of light and love, sources of hope and strength. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be or not to be is not the question. How to be and how not to be is the question.”
We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace—for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream.
Mother Teresa once brought food to a family with eight children who had not eaten in days. She entered their home and looked into the faces of children “disfigured by… the deep pain of hunger.” She handed a plate of rice to the mother, who divided the rice in two and left the house. When she returned a few moments later, she served the remaining half plate to her children. “Where did you go?” Mother Teresa asked her. “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.” “I was not surprised that she gave,” Mother Teresa recalled, “—poor people are really very generous. I was surprised she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.”
Antisemitism is a real and present danger in the US today, inextricably woven into the fabric of the racialized hatred that is tearing our country apart. It’s now more than ever that we must stand together. Join us for interfaith actions with our LA Voice partners. Join and support the Poor People’s Campaign. Go to an Iftar at the Islamic Center. Affirm that the best antidote to White Nationalist hatred is multiracial and multifaith alliances.
Luxury and power were a toxic combination for Joseph. He lost himself beneath those fancy dinners and curled eyelashes. It took many years for him to find himself again. At some point, with his estranged brothers standing before him, וְ לא־יָ כל י ֵסף ְלה ְת ַא ֵפק– Joseph could no longer constrain himself. He wept so loudly that all of Egypt heard him as he said, ֲא ני י ֵסף — I am Joseph (Gen 45:1). I look like an Egyptian, I live in the palace, but know that I am yours. #JeSuisJuif. I am a Hebrew. My loyalty is to my people.
His brothers were dumbfounded, but Joseph had never been more clear about anything in his life.
We should not be ashamed of our success or achievements in this country; we should be grateful for the opportunities we’ve found in America. But we also must never forget who we are, and who we are called to be in the world.
Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi on American soil in 2017, spoke at her daughter’s funeral:
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her. I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”
Yes, Susan: we will make it count. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing—for you and for us all. This moment is a clarion call; it is a wakeup call. Let us not sleep through the revolution.
Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR.
Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts learned the hard way the lesson of discussing politics on the High Holy Days.
Years ago, before the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Baron invited Larry Greenfield, a future California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and David Sadkin, senior counsel to Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, to participate in a community discussion on Yom Kippur afternoon about why they supported their respective party’s candidate.
The result, Baron recalled in a phone interview, was disastrous.
The speakers, he said, “were gentlemen, but their supporters were yelling epithets. It was totally contrarian to the spirit of Yom Kippur. The fangs were out. I said I would never do anything like this again.”
This year, as the Jewish community is consumed with events unfolding in the U.S. and beyond, rabbis are considering how to acknowledge those events during a sacred holiday period otherwise focused on personal introspection and renewal.
There is no rabbinical consensus on this topic — for the High Holy Days or any other time of the Jewish year — as evidenced by a debate over politics on the pulpit that unfolded in the Journal this summer after Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe wrote an essay denouncing how “the litmus test for religious legitimacy has become political opinion.” A colleague, Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, disputed Wolpe’s view, saying it is incumbent on clergy to provide guidance on the “urgent issues our communities, our nation, Israel and the world face today.”
These same choices face rabbis as the Jewish year 5778 approaches and the churn of disruptive events continues to occupy daily thoughts and conversations.
Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback told the Journal that while he does not want to preach politics from the bimah, he will strive to follow the advice from his temple’s founder, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, in delivering High Holy Days sermons that are timeless and timely.
One of several rabbis who said he will acknowledge the challenging times while refraining from expressing a political viewpoint, Zweiback said he intends to discuss how Judaism — specifically, engagement with the religion, its traditions and values — helps make a person better equipped to handle what’s happening in the world.
“I will touch on what Judaism and what the Jewish community teaches us about how we can disagree but still be in community with each other; how Judaism teaches us about compassion for the other at a time when we see Klansmen protesting in the streets and Dreamers wondering what their status will be in the next few months,” he said in a phone interview. “In that sense, it can be timely without being partisan.”
Taking an alternative approach, Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills plans to address politics and call her synagogue to action. Her Rosh Hashanah sermon, “Un-Fracturing,” conveys how stunned she felt this year as anti-Semitism spiked; when an LGBT rally in Chicago kicked out three women for carrying gay pride flags with Stars of David on them; when death threats targeted Jewish journalists in unprecedented numbers; and when Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
Though it is in the DNA of the Jewish people to worry for the future, Bassin will preach that the way to counter darkness is with light.
“It’s not preaching politics, but it is very much about how do I engage in the public sphere right now,” she said. “I have had a couple of congregants across the political spectrum review it just to get their thoughts and input, both from the left and the right, and I’ve made a few tweaks. I want people across the spectrum to be able to hear it. It’s not my intention to offend or be off-putting, but to give people a positive message.”
Her sermon draws on a theme selected by Temple Emanuel synagogue clergy that will tie together all of their sermons. This year, the theme is from Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of the Fathers,” teaching that “In a place where nobody is acting human, strive to be more human.”
Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, for his part, will not be going into politics.
“I kind of feel the synagogue is a place to get away from that,” he said, adding that he supports Bassin’s decision to address controversial issues.
“I believe she has the right to speak about what she wants to speak about,” he said.
Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of the Conservative synagogue Adat Ari El in Valley Village said his sermon will draw inspiration from an August New Yorker article headlined “Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?” He plans to talk about the polarization in the country, which he described as a “low-level civil war, with occasional bursts of violence,” and “what I think religious people, and therefore Jews, can do to address that situation.”
The rabbi doesn’t want his politics to turn off people, but he feels the need to be true to his convictions.
“There is a responsibility on the part of clergy to be thoughtful about what they are speaking about while also taking stands and putting themselves out there and sharing a point of view and not just being totally pareve,” he said, referring to food that can be eaten with meat or dairy dishes in accordance with kosher laws.
Like Bassin, Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood said she will discuss what is going on in the world in a way she feels is apolitical.
“I will address a bit of what happened in Charlottesville on erev Rosh Hashanah because I think it is on everyone’s mind, but it is not the main focus. It is: What do we have to do Jewishly at this season and within ourselves to overcome the hatred and the bigotry and the racism that’s become so openly present,” she said. “That’s not a political message.”
Senior Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood plans to deliver a Kol Nidre sermon he described as “political, but in a very high-minded sense.” He said he plans to focus on how Western liberalism — not liberalism in the political sense — appeals to the impulses of the Jewish people.
“I try to give people faith and hope and renewal about what is important to us as Americans,” he said.
His colleague, Rabbi Jocee Hudson, will address issues of racial justice and intersectionality — the concept that people of different minority groups have a shared struggle. Speaking to concerns of activists of the millennial generation, she, like Bassin, plans to call on the community to become involved, “to engage in justice work, and to do it as members of an organized Jewish community, not just as individuals who happen to be Jewish.”
Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Steven Leder’s approach falls closely in line with Wolpe’s and Zweiback’s. His goal in delivering a sermon, he said, is to provide a timeless and timely message, but being timely doesn’t have to mean a discussion of current events. He believes his congregants want something more.
“My general approach to preaching, and in particular on the High Holy Days, is to create insights for people to transcend the news of the day that are both deeper and more transcendent, because the news of the day on any given day fits into a much broader picture,” he said.
On Rosh Hashanah, Leder said, he will examine the art of letting go, going beyond what he called “the kabuki of change” — earnestly compiling, but not acting upon, intentions to do better in the new year — to actually work at achieving personal and societal transformation. On Yom Kippur, drawing on what he has experienced in his 57 years of living and his 30 years serving Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Leder plans to talk about death — a central theme of the day.
He will offer 10 lessons he has learned over the past three decades, a time during which he has seen approximately 700 corpses. What could be morbid, he explained, will be a plea to live life to the fullest.
“The rabbi does not write your eulogy after you die,” he will say in the sermon. “You write it with the pen of your life.”
The sermon will touch on larger themes, he said, and won’t mention Charlottesville, hurricanes or DACA.
“You’re dealing with something that transcends the headlines,” Leder said. “Not that the headlines are absent, but they ought to be illustrations for something more important on the holidays.”
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of the Orthodox, young adults-oriented synagogue Pico Shul, said he plans to leave politics out of the discussion when he delivers sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“I am working hard on increasing people’s sensitivity to others and inspiring people to deepen and maximize their Jewish experience,” he said. “That is my goal.”
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox membership organization, has had a policy for more than 35 years of separating politics from the pulpit. This year, he said, he will discuss faith in God and the importance of family, topics he insisted are relevant and appropriate for the bimah.
“In my experiences, every rabbi who speaks about politics ends up in trouble because he will alienate his congregation and he isn’t doing what he is supposed to do,” he said. “A rabbi is supposed to teach you.”
Baron, of Temple of the Arts, said he will talk about the hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the fires in California, despite his weariness of politics during the Holy Days.
“I wasn’t going to talk about hurricanes and the impact on our lives, but the words [from the High Holy Day poem, ‘Unetanah Tokef’] never rang more true: ‘Who by fire and who by flood,’ ” he said. “The Western part of the country is burning up, and the East Coast is flooding out. Human frailty to violence in nature is something I think we talk about on the chaggim [holidays]. It’s one of the central prayers.”
Still, he considers expressing political opinion to be unwise.
“It’s a minefield, because I guess the level of discourse has so degenerated,” Baron said. “It’s something we get too much of all year long. The holiday needs to be an alternative to that. It needs to be an alternative universe to the one we inhabit.
“This is about our inner journey. The trial-and-error of politics is not worth getting into, unless it is something that is so core, so vital to the survival of our Judaism, of American Judaism in general.”
Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.
But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.
“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”
For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.
While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.
Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.
In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.
Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.
“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”
Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.
“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”
Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.)
“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”
For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.
“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.
“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”
Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.
“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.
But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.
In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”
Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.
“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”
She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.
“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.
Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.
“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.
The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.
“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”
Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.
“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”
For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.
Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.
Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.
“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”
Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.
“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.
In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.
Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”
“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”
For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.
“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”
However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.
“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”
The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.
Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.
Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.
Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.
Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.
“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”
Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.
When there is no news, there is speculation. And in recent days there has been very little news about the criminal investigations into allegations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Investigations are slow and, besides, there is a gag order that’s preventing the news media from reporting about any developments. So there is a vacuum, and the vacuum is filled by speculation, and by ever-chatting politicians and pundits. Some of them try to convince us that the prime minister is a dead man walking. Some are trying to convince us that “there will be nothing, because there is nothing,” which is Netanyahu’s usual response to questions about the investigations.
He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied. Netanyahu suffered a blow last week when his close aid, Ari Harow, signed a state-witness agreement. One assumes that such an agreement only is signed with a witness who has something incriminating to say. One assumes that Harow was in a position that provided him unique access to Netanyahu. What did he tell the investigators? We don’t know. What does he tell his acquaintances? “I did not rat out Netanyahu” is what he says.
Is that possible? Is it possible that the police signed an agreement with a state witness when the witness believes that he said nothing incriminating about his former boss? In fact, it is. It’s possible if what Harow has to tell is open to interpretation. Harow told the investigators stories that he considers legal and they might consider illegal. Harow told them stories that he believes are not incriminating enough to put Netanyahu on trial and they might believe are incriminating indeed and strong enough to indict Netanyahu.
He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied.
Harow might be naïve. He might not understand the severity of his actions. The investigators might be overeager. They might not see that in their zeal to search for an elusive truth, they criminalize trivial actions. As I remarked four years ago, prosecutors have sniffed around every prime minister for nearly two decades, with mixed results. Netanyahu, first term: investigated, not charged. Ehud Barak: investigated, not charged. Ariel Sharon: investigated, not charged. Ehud Olmert: investigated, charged, found guilty (mostly for his actions as the mayor of Jerusalem). Netanyahu, second term: under investigation again.
Olmert was forced out as prime minister because of the investigation and indictment. Netanyahu has vowed not to repeat Olmert’s actions, that he will not leave his position even if an indictment is put before the court. There is no clear indication in the law that a prime minister must resign if he is indicted.
For now, his coalition partners support his position. But political grounds can shift. Today’s support is essential but hardly guarantees tomorrow’s support. The legal situation might be navigable. But Olmert was pushed out by the political system: The Labor party’s Barak forced the Kadima party to get rid of Olmert or else (the coalition would crumble). And, of course, Barak said at the time that his motivation was pure and that his ambition was for Israel not to be corrupt.
Still, more cynical observers and members of the political cast believed at the time, and still believe, that Barak wanted Olmert ousted because of personal ambitions and his belief that a vacuum created an opportunity for him to become more powerful.
So, Netanyahu’s political fate is hanging in the air and a decision to cut short his time in office could only begin with the political system. And that comes with a lot of ifs: if the prime minister is indicted, if the public (not just his rivals but also voters of coalition parties) wants him out, if his fellow politicians master the courage to stand up to him, if coalition partners believe they can benefit from a new election or get more from another prime minister.
Last week, it appeared that some of Netanyahu’s colleagues were beginning to entertain such thoughts. This week, the tide turned, and Netanyahu proved, once again, that he is quite good at disciplining his party members. Likud ministers who were somewhat reluctant to defend him are back on the airwaves, declaring his innocence. They do it not because they like Netanyahu, not because they want him to stay as their leader, not because they are truly convinced that he is innocent; they do it because that’s the smart thing for them to do politically. It is the smart thing to do as long as Likud voters want Netanyahu to stay.
There are four scenarios under which Netanyahu could be forced out. One: If the politicians decide it is time. Two: If Netanyahu believes he needs to step aside and take care of his legal troubles. Three: If he is indicted and found guilty. Four: If the court interprets the law in a way that forces out the prime minister as soon as he is indicted.
What is the timetable for these scenarios to materialize? With politicians, one never knows, but for now, there is not one important member of the ruling coalition who wants Netanyahu to step aside. There also is no sign that Netanyahu is considering leaving. In fact, he has vowed time and again to fight and remain in office. Indictments take time. A lot of time. In any of these scenarios, Netanyahu is not leaving anytime soon.
Of course, there still is the option of a court decision that forces him out. This will not be an easy decision, because unlike throwing out a minister in Israel — a decision that is problematic personally for the minister but hardly impacts the public — throwing out a prime minister would be perceived as a political revolution by the court.
The bottom line is simple: Either we see a change of political hearts or we are destined to slog through a very long process. That Netanyahu might have to leave at some point is true. But that was true even before the investigations began (it is true with every prime minister). That the end is much closer today than it was before also is true.
But that was true even before the investigations began — it is true for all of us with every passing day.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — war hero, presidential candidate, force of nature — has brain cancer, his family said Wednesday night, and he is garnering well-wishes from across the spectrum.
More than a few are from Jews: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called McCain “A hero. A fighter. A friend.”
Godspeed, @SenJohnMcCain. A hero. A fighter. A friend. Israel is with you.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 20, 2017
Norm Eisen, the ethics chief under President Barack Obama who has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, has worked in the past with McCain on lobbying reform. “Sending you ammo John: our prayers.”
Have been privileged to fight side by side w/ @SenJohnMcCain &so I am confident he will win this battle2. Sending you ammo John: our prayers
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) July 20, 2017
Some of the most heartfelt wishes came from McCain’s colleagues on the other said of the Senate aisle, a rare display of comity in a polarized Washington, including from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and from Al Franken of Minnesota:
.@SenJohnMcCain, you are a true fighter & I'll be praying for you until you beat this. I know you will.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 20, 2017
My friend and colleague @SenJohnMcCain has had his spirit tested time and time again. Wishing strength for him, his family, and loved ones.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) July 20, 2017
There was even a nod from actor Jason Alexander, the politically active alum of “Seinfeld”:
@SenJohnMcCain prayers and best wishes to you, a fine American and man of principles.
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) July 20, 2017
McCain, a maverick who has stubbornly resisted shifting political tides and who embraces an interventionist foreign policy rooted in an idea of America as a shining example to the world, has a natural affinity for Jews. He has been an ardent defender of Israel, visiting the country countless times, and joined pro-Israel centrists in leading opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. His 2008 campaign for the presidency was chockablock with Jewish advisers, particularly in the national security sphere.
Here are four times he has joined with Jews in bucking expectations:
McCain joined with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, then one of the most liberal Democrats, to keep corporate money out of campaign financing. Republicans hated the law — its first legal challenge was by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who is now the majority leader — and it eventually backfired. Banned from directly funding candidates, corporations exploited a loophole that allowed funding againstcandidates — and such so-called “soft money” was even harder to track. The Supreme Court in 2010 struck down key portions of McCain-Feingold as unconstitutionally impinging on free speech.
McCain-Feingold was so bogged down in acrimony and infighting, the cartoon series “Family Guy” made it a joke in 2010, featuring the bill as a laugh line that only irredeemably boring Washington insiders would get. It has one notable legacy: The “I’m Jane Doe and I approve this message” lines that tag political ads, designed to curb vituperation among candidates.
Quixotic? Yes. But the conservative, blue-talking southwestern Episcopalian and the soft-spoken Jew from Wisconsin remain friends, and Feingold was among McCain’s well-wishers on Wednesday.
— Russ Feingold (@russfeingold) July 20, 2017
McCain’s two closest friends in the Senate have been Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman, Democrat and then Independent of Connecticut. They advanced the robust foreign policy now out of fashion with Republicans with frequent visits to conflict zones, dubbing themselves the “Three Amigos.”
That “then Independent” in Lieberman’s biography is key. Lieberman and McCain were always close — like McCain, Lieberman remained a champion of the Iraq War long after other erstwhile backers changed their minds. But Lieberman’s defeat in the 2006 Democratic primary for his seat and his subsequent win as an Independent freed him to openly back McCain in the 2008 election, although he continued to caucus with Democrats.
McCain sorely wanted Lieberman as his running mate, but the Republican establishment — in the form of Karl Rove — fiercely resisted, saying he would be guaranteed to lose the election if he took on a Democrat in all but name. (So much for that: McCain’s eventual pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, pleased the base, but also likely was critical in driving away moderates and handing the election to Barack Obama.)
Lieberman had already made history in 2000 as the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket when Democratic nominee Al Gore chose him as his running mate. Had McCain prevailed, he would have made history again, as the first vice-presidential nominee to make the ticket for both parties.
McCain bucked the George W. Bush presidency in objecting to its sanction of torture in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (He also has clashed with President Donald Trump on the issue.) It was personal for McCain: As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he had been tortured, and the notion that his beloved country would embrace the practice struck him as unconscionable.
Among his partners in his quest to ban the practice? Rabbis for Human Rights (now T’ruah), which met with him in 2005. It wasn’t a mere courtesy meeting: The group briefed McCain on Israel’s Supreme Court 1999 ban on even “moderate physical pressure,” and the fact that Israel was able to combat terrorism without torture became a talking point for the senator.
McCain, speaking at an Israeli embassy event in 2012 honoring Lieberman, who was wrapping up his career as a senator, shocked the room by saying he was considering converting to Judaism. Not because he loved the faith’s practices, but because he had endured enough of them traveling with Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, that he figured he might as well.
He was joking, of course, but it was a memorable — and salty — evening, as our coverage described it atthe time:
“I’ve had for so many years had to put up with the bulls**t,” McCain said. “I might as well convert.”
He started with Shabbat elevators, whose point he never quite got: “Pushing all those buttons — and nothing!”
Then McCain got to the dining. “Why in every f**king kosher menu do we have to have salmon?” he said to peals of laughter. “I’d like to have a round of applause tonight because we don’t have salmon.” (The main dish was roast beef.)
Then there were the long walks on winter Sabbaths, accompanying Lieberman home from the Senate. And that time McCain fell asleep on a plane ride. “I hear this mumbling and I look and there’s this guy wearing a shawl — I thought maybe I’d died.”
McCain now knows what a tallit is and even cited two “Hebrew” words in his lexicon, “Mensch and Oy Vey.”
But Lieberman, in his own speech, got in a zinger of a rejoinder: “John, your entry into the covenant was a lot less painful than mine.”
I have been dating George for six months. We spend a lot of time together and have settled into a comfortable space. He makes me laugh and I feel protected, valued, cherished, respected, and entertained. He is kind and gentle, yet not at all a pushover. He is a good man, which I noticed immediately because one often takes notice of things they have never encountered before. I like him very much.
George and I don’t fight. Not to say we don’t disagree on things, because we do, but there is no yelling, disrespect, regret in what we say, or how we say it. There are a lot of things that are new about this relationship. I thought the biggest obstacle would be that George is not Jewish. Turns out that isn’t actually a deal breaker. He has come with me to Shabbat Services, met my Rabbi, and embraced how I embrace my faith. I am Jewish enough to carry my faith on my own, which is an empowering feeling as I always felt my partner needed also be Jewish.
So here is where we stand:
Sense of Humor Check
Blue Eyes Check
Thinks I Rock Check
Religion All Good
Politics Oy Vey
I am a person who likes to talk about politics. I am fascinated by what is happening in America and enjoy not only the banter that politics inspires, but learning about how the political system works. It is a truly unique time for this country and I want to talk about it. Not just politics, but the news in general. From the alleged treason of Donald Trump and his family, to the senseless killings of African Americans by law enforcement, to people who sold pot being in prison next to people who sold heroin, I want to not only talk about it, but try to fix it. Whether writing about race relations, calling my Congressman to have my voice heard, or advocating for medical marijuana, it all matters to me.
It has forced me to look at my relationship in a way I never have before. I have to decide what is important and why I think it is important. Does it matter that I be with someone who thinks exactly like me? Am I holding my partner up a different level of scrutiny than I do my friends? Do I value someone who treats me well? Is not talking about politics a deal breaker? Can I only love someone who thinks the exact same way as me? At the end of the day it forces me to think about what I want, what I deserve, and what I am afraid of. Am I simply using politics as a way to run away from someone wonderful because I’m scared?
Rachelle Friberg is a friend of mine. I have never met her in person mind you, but she is my friend. She is a lovely young woman who reached out to me on social media after I wrote a series of blogs about a random encounter with Sarah Palin. She was hosting a radio show and asked if I would come on and talk about it. While I am sure there are many republicans in my life, she was the first one who was really out there with her politics. She is proudly republican. She is also young, educated, religious, and close with her family. With the exception of our political affiliations, we are actually quite similar and I like her very much. We have been friends for several years and she is my go to republican.
I asked Rachelle a few questions because I value her opinion on politics. She’d be a great politician and perhaps after her career as one of the best school teachers this country has to offer, she will run for office. Rachelle has always been a republican. Both her parents are republicans. She used to consider herself a conservative republican, but her views have shifted a little over time. While she still considers herself a fiscal conservative, which I suppose I am too, she considers herself more of a moderate when it comes to social issues. She has coined herself a “common-sense republican”, which I love.
I asked Rachelle if she would date democrat and it was the first time she’d ever been asked the question. She never gave the topic much thought. When it comes to dating or being in a relationship, she looks at the individual and could care less whom the guy she’s dating voted for in an election. If the chemistry is there, why would she let political differences stand in the way of her having a committed, lasting relationship? She expanded by saying having differences in beliefs whether it comes to something as important as politics, or as trivial as what kind of pizza toppings you prefer on pizza (ham and pineapple is her winner), can be a good thing in that you’ll never run out of things to talk about. Healthy debates can be a good thing and can add an element of fun to a relationship.
When we spoke about President Trump, Rachelle shared that this was the first presidential election since voting in her first election at age of 18, she didn’t vote for the republican nominee. When it came to voting day, she could not vote for an individual whom she felt did not represent her as a republican or her values. That said, she said since President Trump won, and is now president of the United States, he is her President. She respects the office of the land and believes we live in the greatest country on earth. She believes it is her duty to stand by her country, but she wishes he would stop tweeting already.
At the end of the day Rachelle does not think political affiliation of your significant other should determine whether or not you can jump all in. If you have chemistry, who cares whom they voted for? Would it make it easier if they vote the same way as she did? Probably. But Rachelle reminded me nothing comes easy without hard work and grit. Relationships can be messy, but they are also amazing testaments to the value that comes with loving someone through the good and the bad. Sometimes the best relationships come from the most unexpected circumstances. You’ll never know unless you take a leap of faith.
Rachelle made me see things differently. If she can date a democrat, then certainly I could date a republican! In a final attempt to get her to get me to walk away from George, I asked my lovely Christian friend if she would date a Jew. Her answer was really surprising to me. It was a tough question for her. She is deeply rooted in her religion but it is not the be-all, end-all of a relationship for her. She would date someone who practices a different religion because love is love and she understands how special and rare it is to find someone. Oh. My. God. I might actually be in love with Rachelle. She is a wonderful human being.
As I write this I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing. Am I trying to push away a man because of politics? Am I so certain I have yet again picked the wrong person, I am willing to get rid of him before my heart is hurt? Am I brave enough to jump in and fall in love with a man who makes no sense anywhere but my heart? It is all rather complicated and I suppose that is the thing about love. It is not relationships that are complicated, but rather love. Love is also grand and I have been searching for it for a long time. The possibility of finding it is terrifying. Not sure what I’m doing, but I am certain politics shouldn’t play a role in love.
George is a lovely man but the simple truth is that not only is he a republican, but he voted Donald Trump. At the end of the day that is something that has me stuck. This man has been gentle with my heart and inspired me to view things differently, but how can I respect someone who not only voted for, but continues to support Trump? It may simply be impossible. I hope to have a happy ending one day, and whenever that is, and whoever it is with, I will be grateful, afraid, excited, and as always, keeping the faith.
Ivanka Trump serves as a special assistant to her father, President Donald Trump. But she says getting involved in politics isn’t really her thing.
Trump went on to praise her father’s political career in the “Fox & Friends” interview.
“His political instincts are phenomenal. He did something that no one could have imagined he’d be able to accomplish. There were very few who saw it early on. I feel blessed with being part of the ride from day one and before but he did something pretty remarkable. But I don’t profess to be a political savant, so I leave the politics to other people and really lean into the issues that I care deeply about,” the president’s Jewish daughter continued in the “Fox & Friends” interview.
Those issues include helping working families and veterans as well as addressing opioid addiction, Trump said.
Trump admitted to having disagreements with her father, although she did not elaborate where their differences lay.
“I make it very clear where I stand on a certain issue, so I give him my open and candid feedback. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. We’re different people, so there are areas we disagree,” she said.
Trump, who has published a book about women’s empowerment in the workplace, and her husband Jared Kushner have been criticized by some on the left for keeping silent on issues such as LGBT rights and climate change. After tweeting her support for LGBT Pride Month earlier this month, she was slammed by social media users who pointed out that Vice President Mike Pence has spoken in favor of gay conversion therapy and against same-sex marriage.
In the “Fox & Friends” interview, Trump also responded to a question about her conversion to Judaism, calling it “a very personal decision.”
“I tend not to talk about my faith too openly. It’s one of the few things in my life that’s truly my own, especially these days. But I think for me religion serves as a great reminder of what’s important, a great reminder of core values. It helps me connect with my children. It helps us connect as a family and really create a framework for how we want to live our lives,” she said.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 26, 2017
RedCrow Intelligence doesn’t have a crystal ball. But for the past three years the online startup based in Ramallah, in the West Bank, has proven effective at predicting conflict in the Middle East, using proprietary algorithms. Its data have been invaluable to private-sector companies, government agencies and individuals involved in the region’s unstable political environment that are looking to stay out of harm’s way.
Established in August 2014 by Palestinian entrepreneurs Hussein Nasser-Eddin and Laila Akel, RedCrow was conceived as an online platform providing real-time intelligence about politically hot zones in the Middle East. Having started with the West Bank, the privately owned company today also covers developments in Jordan and Egypt. Users of its app receive instantaneous security information on their mobile phones.
The data enable users to make split-second decisions, based on the immediate security situation. For instance, is it safe to drive from one location to another on a certain road? RedCrow’s app provides a detailed map showing the location of security incidents, clashes and political marches. The app even reports on such details as a mentally disturbed individual seen running on a road.
“Our systems are built on a set of algorithms to make sure the information provided is accurate,” said Nasser-Eddin, RedCrow’s 31-year-old CEO. The algorithms monitor and collect information and news from open sources, including social media and rich site summary, or RSS, a format for delivering regularly changing web content, he said.
The system automatically converts news and information into updated maps. Similar to the hugely popular app Waze, RedCrow shows the location for each incident, as well as statistics and text alerts, enabling drivers to detour around problems such as security roadblocks or traffic jams.
RedCrow has local and international clients, including Amideast, Care and Hemaya.
The company has a track record in improving the virtual presence of “Palestine.”
“Over time, the accuracy of the information that RedCrow offers its clients has become more transparent,” said Ziad Abu Zayyad, a current RedCrow client. “For example, the application shows how many sources confirmed every piece of information sent to me. I am aware almost immediately of every incident taking place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The service puts all information in a single place for you, rather than me searching for it.”
RedCrow filters out “fake news,” depending on reliable sources such as Facebook or Twitter accounts and trusted political activists. Similarly, the company reports only on developments that numerous individuals witnessed at the same time and place. “In addition to providing immediate security information, RedCrow provides long-term security informative maps,” Nasser-Eddin said. “For certain areas, that helps business owners make strategic decisions.”
Typically, these reports include under-reported news of a nonpolitcal nature and public opinion surveys.
“When the Arab Spring took place, I was certain that there was a need for security information,” Nasser-Eddin said. “We needed a platform to provide security facts and news. The media is biased. It shows and hides stories based on agendas.”
RedCrow’s Mass Media feature aggregates news from national, regional and international news channels. Among the scores of websites, news agencies and blogs, it constantly monitors Israeli and Palestinian news outlets and the Israel Defense Forces. “Mass Media filters news in different areas and provides only security-related news based on the end-user’s location,” said RedCrow co-founder Laila Akel.
The company has a track record in improving the virtual presence of “Palestine.” For example, in the past, activists accused Google of deleting “Palestine” from Google Maps.
In response, Google posted a statement online: “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps. However, we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip.’ We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.”
Using Google Map’s layers for the West Bank as a base, RedCrow added landmarks and important places to create a secure and informative map.
RedCrow’s team, which started with three staffers, has grown to 13. “Our plan is to cover the Middle East in the coming two years,” Akel said.
RedCrow received an investment from the Ibtikar Fund — a venture capital company that invests in Palestinian startups.
“Ibtikar Fund invested in RedCrow for its valuable and much-needed product, and its experienced team,” an Ibtikar spokesman said. “Ibtikar will continue to work with the RedCrow team as it develops further products and services, and expands to cover the region.”
I thank my colleagues and friends Rick Jacobs and Noah Farkas, and many others, who wrote in response to my opinion piece “Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit” in the June 9 edition of the Jewish Journal. I offer the following points:
1. “Moral issues” are almost always “political stances I agree with” and “partisan politics” are stances with which I differ. Self-righteousness is a potent drug, and politics has enough of it without adding religion, as our Founding Fathers knew. The passion with which you hold a conviction says absolutely nothing about its correctness. Nothing. Even-handedness feels tepid and uninspiring, but for that reason it is all the more important. We demonize each other by pulpit pounding proclamations of “Torah true” positions. Using the rabbinate to promote policies is exploiting one form of authority to enforce another.
2. Every rabbi should preach values, of course. Values are not policies and not embodied in politicians. This past Shabbat, I spoke about Judaism and the sin of racism. Policies to combat racism are a more complex matter. There are studies, statistics, successes, failures — in other words, solutions best left to those who master the field and know something, and to our capacity to argue as citizens. I’ve spoken and written about immigration, war, poverty and other issues to clarify values but not to endorse policies. Congregants often know more about specific policy issues than I. Rabbinic training does not provide the gavel to judge between the economic contentions of John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Gun control measures, however much I may favor them, were not outlined in the story of Korach or the Book of Proverbs. Colleagues who miraculously locate the policies of their party in each week’s Torah portion are no more credible than so-called kabbalists who find in the Torah’s “codes” predictions of the future or confirmations of the past.
3. I’ve asked several correspondents a simple question and received not one satisfactory answer: What policies do you support on major questions that differ with what you would believe if you were not a religious Jew? If Judaism supports all the policies you believe anyway, can’t you be at least a little suspicious that your politics are guiding your Torah, and not your Torah leading to your politics?
4. Politics and campaigns are inherently divisive, and never more than now. If as a rabbi you have a perfectly homogenous shul, then I congratulate you on your frictionless life. But I have too often heard of people leaving shuls feeling politically disenfranchised by the rabbi’s preaching. Synagogues should not be tax-exempt campaign offices.
5. Yes, I know Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Honestly, I do. But issues like slavery and civil rights are very rare, once in a generation, and invoking them for everything from social welfare policy to Dodd-Frank to the methods of vetting immigrants is both dishonest and cheapening a great moral legacy. If you are using the march on Selma to religiously validate your views on the minimum wage, shame on you.
6. Many people privately ask about my political views and I’m happy to answer. But not from the bimah. As a rabbi, my task is to bless, to teach values and texts and ideas and rituals, to comfort, to cajole, to listen and learn, to grow in spirit along with my congregants, to usher them through the transitions of life, to create a cohesive community, to defend the people and land of Israel, and to reinforce what most matters. The great questions of life are not usually political ones. When political questions do arise, the rabbi should clarify the Jewish values involved and expect congregants to decide which candidates and policies best fulfill those values. Aren’t there enough disastrous examples in the world where clergy set public policy for us to be humble about our political wisdom?
David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).
There are few colleagues for whom I have more respect than Rabbi David Wolpe. His books, sermons, articles and his personal character and warmth show all of us what being a rabbi means. I count him as both a teacher and a friend.
Which is why I was struck by Rabbi Wolpe’s recent op-ed in the Jewish Journal (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 7). How could someone who is usually so right be so wrong on something so important?
Rabbi Wolpe is, of course, correct when he writes “You can love Torah and vote for Trump. You can love Torah and think Trump is a blot on the American system. What you may not do, if you are intellectually honest, is say that the Torah points in only one political direction.” But I want to suggest that although one can certainly love Torah and follow different political paths, one cannot claim to be a lover of Torah and not care about how our society treats those in need, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and the oppressed.
Let me be clear: Our synagogues should never be places of partisanship. People of all political stripes should feel welcome within our walls. For that reason, I have argued against repealing the Johnson Amendment that bars clergy and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates or parties. Repeal would turn synagogues into just another partisan tool, when in fact we should be moral goads, always free to speak truth to power and lift our voices to affirm our 3,000-year-old mandate to “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) as an expression of our care and concern for the world around us.
Sermons that “speak up” on the great moral issues of our world and our lives may address politics and policy as a means of addressing such moral issues but they are not about politics. On the contrary, they are about our Jewish values; the values we teach and the values we pass on to our children; the values that have kept us together as a people for centuries.
The role of the rabbi is not to eschew such issues in their sermons but rather to lift up the insights of our tradition that can illuminate these debates and model civil discussion in a manner that shows respect for differing views and avoids divisive language or ad hominem attacks on those who disagree.
The Judaism that I believe in does not limit Torah lessons to the parchment of our sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), nor to the tables around which we convene for communal Torah study. The Judaism that I live compels me to use those lessons to understand the most urgent challenges we face. And since the beginning of the enlightenment, rabbis of all streams have felt compelled to use the evolving institution of the sermon to bear prophetic witness to pressing societal and communal challenges their congregants faced.
As Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, one of America’s most influential rabbis of the first half of the 20th century, responded to criticism by those who made the argument Rabbi Wolpe made, that he should not address political issues from the pulpit, such as the power of monopolistic corporations and the abusive treatment of their workers:
“If, however, there is a larger and a higher duty, it is the duty of the Synagogue pulpit. … [T]he pulpit of the synagogue is charged with the responsibility of the prophetic memories and prophetic aspirations. If the Jewish pulpit ought to speak out at this time concerning the industrial situation, then upon the pulpit in which I stand, pledged to the truth-speaking under freedom, there lies a most solemn and inescapable duty. I could not with self-respect remain silent. … ”
Now, more than ever, with millions of refugees suffering the crushing burden of wars and dislocation, the planet on the verge of confronting the irreversible, devastating consequences of climate change, Muslim and Jewish Americans fearful in the face of escalating hate crimes, and millions at risk of losing lifesaving health care access, rabbis cannot — nor should not — abdicate the call of the prophets and the teachings of the rabbis by “standing idly by the blood of our neighbor.”
Rabbi Wolpe refers to our “tradition of argument, debate and compromise.” Those are indeed core values of our tradition. While our sages welcomed the debate, ensuring that majority and minority opinion were respected, in the end, despite differing viewpoints, the decisions were made on what the law would be; guidance was given to the Jewish community, even when compromise and common ground were elusive. Our rabbis should do no less nor offer any less guidance regarding the urgent issues our communities, our nation, Israel and the world face today.
I am moved by Rabbi Wolpe’s referencing that the mezuzot at the very doors of our homes are hung not horizontally nor vertically but rather at “an angled compromise.” He is right about the importance of compromise, but we must not miss the key lesson here: the mezuzot are, in fact, hung!
RABBI RICK JACOBS is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Like many others, I read Rabbi David Wolpe’s op-ed on politics and the pulpit with a sense of profound ambivalence (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 9). I found myself caught between ovation and objection.
The ancient rabbis begin in a similar place. Religion has no place in the public square because the town center is full of sin, it is depraved and consumed with self-interested politicians. “Be wary of the government, for they befriend no one unless it is out of self interest.” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).
The English word for holy spaces, “sanctuary,” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” meaning separate. Religion is a refuge against all that’s dirty and repugnant in the world. We come to the sanctuary to find comfort in one another’s embrace, protection from the harshness of the political world.
There is a something comforting about hunkering down against the weekly tweetstorm. Something heartwarming and freeing to not be bothered by CNN for a few hours. It feels good to rest.
However, our tradition forbids us to pray in a room without windows. We must be able to look outside and see the hour, including the pressing hour, the sha’a dakhaq, upon which our world is squeezed ever more presently.
The rabbis tell us, “Anyone who is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not is punished for the transgressions of the entire world.” (Shabbat 55a). There is no sanctus in Judaism, nothing takes us out of the world. There is only kedushah — a sense of holiness that pushes us back into it.
Hence my ambivalence toward the good rabbi. Every leader must make a decision for his or her community, and I believe ultimately that the false distinction between religion and politics makes both worse. It makes religion a reverential Polaroid of ancient times. It makes faith static, metaphysics frozen, and theology moribund. If religion has nothing to say about the world we live in, if it addresses no reality outside our door, especially when that reality causes anguish and pain, what then do we need religion for? We risk slipping into the great void where all our windows become mirrors.
A state without a transcendent moral ethic of religion can become imperiled. George Washington, in his farewell address, understood that, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” One of Washington’s great fears was that a society that is based in freedom would eventually free itself from morality and succumb to the bare clash of naked self-interest. As my teacher Rabbi Harold Schulweis z”l writes, “Religion … acts as a check on the State’s politics affirming that that which is harmful to the general good is impious and must be altered immediately.”
Religion is a durable good for society; it can hold the conscience and aspiration that make democracy work. Religion gives a tailwind to those who want to see that the injustices of yesterday cannot dictate the freedoms of tomorrow. The rabbi’s role is not to pick winners and losers in both party and personality, but to be the navigator, making sure that both congregant and congressman do not run aground on shoals of selfishness.
I fear, however, that Washington is proving to be right. In an article in the Atlantic Magazine, Peter Beinart shows convincingly that as Americans participate less in religious activities, the more polarized our politics become. “For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict,” Beinart concludes. “It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.”
It is because religious spaces like synagogues are some of the only platforms of mediation today between those who look and act enough like us so that we can listen to differing points of view. When we hear a rabbi teach an ethic of selflessness, transcending the ego in service to ideals higher than our own narrow desires, we can build havens of communication and solidarity in the chaos of the political world.
With the loss of these religious spaces we easily lose our affection for one another. Without sacred humility we lose the capacity to hear one another. If we leave all politics at the door when we enter the synagogue, then we lose a crucial nurturing structure that knits together our society.
Church and state can and should remain separate. But religion and politics are joint authors of our book of life.
Rabbi Noah Farkas is a clergy member at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; founder of Netiya, a Los Angeles Jewish nonprofit that promotes urban agriculture through a network of interfaith partners; and the author of “The Social Action Manual: Six Steps to Repairing the World” (Behrman House).
I write in response to Rabbi Wolpe’s editorial from June 7, “Why I keep politics off the pulpit.” Rabbi Wolpe’s erudite defense of an apolitical pulpit captures wonderfully the rhetoric of the Right and Left – on Israel or America – that insists on the Jewishness of their particular position. He argues that Jewish tradition does not speak definitively to either side, that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily contradicts the Torah.
I applaud his call for rabbis to focus their public teaching on texts and Jewish traditions – on Jacob and Rachel, not Pence and Pelosi, as he put it. Too often rabbis focus their sermons exclusively on contemporary politics – whether American or Israeli – and squander their weekly opportunity to teach Jewish texts to a semi-captive audience that does not regularly study our traditions. However, Rabbi Wolpe’s argument that rabbis should avoid politics almost entirely – whether on or off the pulpit – contains at least two fundamental flaws that I hope he, and others, consider.
First, there is no neutrality in politics any more than there is neutrality in Sabbath observance. Sabbath comes, and one observes it or not in whatever way they choose. So-called political neutrality is itself a form of political expression. It is support for those in power, or for those destined to be victorious without the voice of the rabbis. Moreover, countless times rabbis have indicated to me that they do not take stands on political issues – even compelling ones – but then happily supported various political causes that they understood to benefit Israel or the Jewish community. Well, that is a circular argument that labels certain actions as non-political because they seemed so self-evidently beneficial. Those were, in fact, political actions that reflected the Jewish values of the rabbis in question, and their refusal to advocate for other issues was equally a political act.
Second, there is no single Judaism today. Judaism is split between competing denominations with different core values. For most Reform congregations, for example, the prophetic teachings about social justice and common humanity are far more important than familiarity with how the Talmud derives that a man can “acquire” a wife via a written contract, to cite Rabbi Wolpe’s example. (To be sure, many Conservative and Orthodox congregations – who are more committed to Talmudic texts and law – likewise believe the Torah’s key message is to defend the defenseless.)
In contrast, other congregations are bound together primarily by a shared sense of ethno-nationalist identity, and certainly there are texts and traditions to support this. Their Judaism is focused on rituals and texts that express this identity, while downplaying or reinterpreting other texts. Whereas public flaunting of religious law might lead to various levels of exclusion in other observant congregations, here it is instead public opposition to the West Bank settlements – not to speak of support for a bi-national democratic state – that might lead to ostracization.
In short, insisting that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily opposes the Torah is itself setting the Jewish values of one’s community in a specific way. Rabbi Wolpe’s brilliant caricature of the Jewish claims of the Right and Left does not prove that a rabbi must avoid these positions. Rather, each rabbi and community must decide if the Torah in fact does support one position.
It is perfectly legitimate, for example, to argue that a rabbi must rally Jews against Trump and his agenda, and it is also valid to argue that the rabbi must rally Jews behind him. Equally, it is valid for a rabbi to preach the immorality of the occupation, or instead to advocate for greater oppression of the Palestinians. The choice reflects the “denomination” of Judaism represented, and the texts and traditions they choose to emphasize and ignore. Rabbis and their flocks must decide which “denomination” seems most authentic. Rabbi Wolpe’s call to ignore the issue is itself a political act, separate from either camp to be sure, but no less a political – and thus moral – choice for it.
Finally, in a rejoinder on facebook (cited here with his permission), Rabbi Wolpe added that there are exceptions to his argument, but that they are “very rare – slavery, civil rights,” adding that a rabbi should “invest his or her political views with Jewish sanction [only] once in 100 years.” I appreciate the concession, and it is true that Judaism does not speak to every political debate, but it merely begs the question of whether we now live in such a moment. Remember, those views in their time were extremely controversial, and as a result many rabbis in both the North and South refused to address them based precisely on Rabbi Wolpe’s logic. Only with hindsight do we applaud those rabbis who took up the mantle and – perhaps – bemoan the failure of others to join them. It is up to each Jewish leader – indeed, each and every Jew – to decide for themselves whether the current crisis in America warrants a religious response. Personally, I cannot imagine a more obvious Jewish cause in my lifetime.
College of Charleston
I have been dating “George” for several months and for the first time in my life I am not in a rush to define it. He calls me his girlfriend, which is lovely. We are in an exclusive and committed relationship that matters to me, but I am not searching for labels or declarations. That is new for me because as a hopeless romantic I am so hopeful that my view of relationships has been distorted.
I have loved men who were unworthy of me. By unworthy of course I mean they should never date. Ever. I have not been interested in men who were probably good for me. I have cried more tears than anyone should, yet I am certain I will find love. I will meet someone wonderful who gets, deserves, and appreciates me. We will build memories that are happy rather than sad. It is just a matter of time.
When it comes to George, I have never been treated so kindly by a man. He is sweet, attentive, supportive, and lovely. He does not look like anyone I’ve ever dated, and he is not Jewish, which is how I have always rolled. He is a republican, which is how I never roll. We have nothing in common and were raised very differently, yet we are in a relationship and it is all really quite nice.
I am at a point in my life when I understand how hard it is to simply have nice. Nice is a wonderful word to describe a relationship and I don’t think people understand how important it is to have things be nice. To be clear it is not boring, just nice. We are respectful of each other’s opinions and communicate without fear. I enjoy his company and how he treats me. Most importantly, he makes me laugh.
There is however, one unsettling thing. When we talk politics, I find myself wanting to punch him in the face. We are on different pages and it makes my lower back spasm. The truth is no matter how much George thinks he is a Republican, I think he may actually be Independent. Perhaps I am one too! He believes his views are patriotic, but they are actually not at all in the best interest of the country.
I like him, but politics are a road block. I used to think I could never date a man who wasn’t Jewish, but it turns out dating a republican is much harder. It could just be me getting nervous that everything is good and therefore I’m finding things to sabotage. It could also be that I’m simply not able to date someone so different on two very important subjects of politics and religion.
It is hard to know if I am making the right choices. On Friday night George came with me to Shabbat services. He held my hand while I prayed, participated in the traditions, and met my Rabbi. It is great that he is open to my faith and will celebrate with me. I appreciate it, but we will undoubtedly speak about the political drama of the week, and I will struggle to not punch him. Oy vey.
At this point in our relationship I need to either jump in or get out. I want very much to set aside politics and focus on the nice, but I am not sure I can do it. I am open to all perspectives, but am struggling with politics, which is strange because I was certain it would be religion that got in my way. George is not a religious person. He believes on God, but does not practice any faith.
That makes things surprisingly easy. I am a practicing Jew, but I do not need him to practice with me to be satisfied in my faith. It is enough that he supports and respects how I practice Judaism. Having him at services with me was lovely. He was comfortable and open to all of it. This is a wonderful man who checks a lot of my boxes. I want to make it work, but will I be able to?
Can you fall in love with someone who is fundamentally different from you? Can you build a life with someone who’s political perspective changes how you view them? Should you invest in someone who you want to change? I adore this man but politically we are beyond not being on the same page, we are actually reading different books. It seems silly, but is a real struggle.
The internal battle I thought I would face over religion never happened. Instead my struggle is political, but love should never be political. Should it? I believe people should think, feel, and believe whatever they want. I also believe in love, and love is grand. The most important thing in love is respect, so can I love someone who’s views I don’t respect? It is all rather complicated.
The problem is that I have written here many times that love should not be complicated. My past relationships have always had something that was complicated, and the complication ultimately ends things. I am in a relationship now where the complication has been front and center from the beginning. There are no surprises. I knew what the differences were right from the start.
Time will tell if this complication brings us closer together or tears us apart. George is of the belief it makes us interesting as a couple. He is also a republican, so what does he know? Oy! It has been a wonderful weekend with George. We went to temple, hung out with my son, and enjoyed our time together. As for the future, he might be my bashert so I am putting politics aside, and keeping the faith.
President Donald Trump’s executive order to weaken a prohibition against religious and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates has driven a wedge between Jewish religious leaders. Some cite it as a victory for First Amendment rights while others view it as a threat to the separation of church and state.
The prohibition is a 1954 provision to the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations from certain political activities.
On one side of Trump’s action are clergy, such as Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who argue that religious leaders should speak out on issues they support. Hier once was censured by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the prohibition.
“We should fully honor the separation of church and state, but that has nothing to do with giving a sermon,” said Hier, who led the prayer at the White House ceremony on May 4 when Trump signed the order and who spoke at the president’s inauguration. “When you’re a rabbi or a priest, and you feel strongly about an issue, you can name names! And you can say don’t vote for him! It wouldn’t be such an aveira,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew word for sin.
Other Jewish leaders and institutions, however, expressed dismay at the order, saying it sanctioned oppressive behavior and undermined the role of clergy as unifying figures. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), a social justice advocacy group representing 900 Reform congregations across the United States, called the order “dangerously broad.”
Rabbi Joel Simonds, the RAC’s West Coast director of policy and associate rabbi at University Synagogue, said that while the pulpit should be used to rally against injustice, “justice isn’t partisan.”
“There are plenty of organizations and communities that can be partisan and that can speak out,” Simonds said. “But we have a unique place in our society and in our community to not dehumanize the other … and to preserve that safeguard [between church and state].”
The Johnson Amendment is named for then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who later became vice president and president. It forbids nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, contributing to election campaigns or otherwise influencing legislation with public statements. Violating organizations may see their tax-exempt status revoked — although the Internal Revenue Service has seldom enforced the rule.
It does not prevent religious organizations from expressing views intended to support one side of an issue.
The president’s executive order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” instructed the Treasury Department not to single out religious organizations for speaking “about moral or political issues from a religious perspective” when similar activity would not be considered a violation by a secular nonprofit.
The language used in the order was a relief for those concerned that Trump favored granting religious institutions even wider latitude. In February, he had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Only Congress can fully repeal it.)
For those who had anticipated a more drastic measure, there still was plenty to dislike about the president’s action.
“I’m concerned about what drove this executive order,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the synagogue IKAR. “I believe that if this administration were really concerned about religious freedom, that this would not be the step that one would see.”
Brous pointed to the rising tides of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as issues of religious freedom that demanded action from the White House.
“There are actual vulnerable religious minorities in the country right now that need protection, and this executive order is a bit of a dance with the players who created the ‘War on Christmas’ in order to play to the [conservative] base, and to create the sense that we are getting the back of those religious figures,” she said.
The order also directs federal agencies to consider amending the mandatory inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies offered by private employers, a change widely sought by the religious right.
The Orthodox Union (OU), a national organization that supports the Orthodox Jewish community, applauded the order for giving people the right to incorporate personal religious views into workplace policy.
Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for policy, said supporting religious freedom had been a White House priority until Barack Obama took office in 2009.
“[President Trump] is reasserting religious liberty as a primary consideration for how the executive branch implements law and policy,” Diament said. “We don’t have as Jews the same view [as Christian groups regarding contraceptive coverage]. But we do believe religious freedom needs to be protected — and the Obama administration could have but chose not to.”
Diament added that the OU supported the Johnson Amendment and likely would not have supported the executive order had its language been more aggressive. “We’re concerned about rabbis in synagogues being pressured into taking political stances that they may not want to take and may divide their community,” he said.
Hier pointed out that clergy making political statements is already a fact of life, an assertion that Brous agreed with. Moreover, Hier said, if someone came along who really was threatening — a candidate who was anti-Israel or a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, leadero of the Nation of Islam, were his examples — there would be an obligation to speak out.
When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, Hier found himself in such a scenario. Jackson had referred to New York City as a “Hymietown,” using a derogatory term toward Jews.
“We condemned it and basically said that nobody should vote for him because it indicated to me the commitment to anti-Semitism,” Hier said.
Shortly thereafter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a nonprofit organization, received a warning letter stating that it had breached the Johnson Amendment. That encounter informs Hier’s opinion of the law today.
Brous agreed with Hier that clergy should not shy away from bad political actors. But she disputed the need to oppose them at the pulpit. “There’s a candidate that’s been trafficking in racism and bigotry and misogyny of all forms, and I did not need to stand up ever and say vote for this person or vote for the other person.
“It’s enough to say, this is about democracy versus authoritarianism, this is about decency versus indecency, this is about moral right versus moral wrong, without having to hold people’s hands and pull the lever in the voting booth.”
Still, Hier conceded, if Congress repealed the amendment, he doubted that a rabbi would have much influence over his congregants: “People don’t adopt policies based on what the rabbi says. That we have to leave for the time of the Messiah.”
He said that he would not weigh in on future elections from his station. But for those who don’t want to hear about politics when they go to pray, Hier joked “they shouldn’t join a shul.”
After Donald Trump won the presidential election, Sheila Katz wasn’t sure she wanted to come home for Thanksgiving.
As the politically liberal member of a conservative family, she had been comfortable sparring with her relatives during the Obama administration. But as Thanksgiving approached, she found it hard to get over the fact that her parents had voted for Trump. During one particularly painful phone call, a tearful Katz told her mother she wasn’t sure she would ever look at her the same way again.
The problem was particularly pointed for Katz, who co-founded Ask Big Questions, a Hillel International initiative that teaches how to have productive conversations about tough issues. She applied the organization’s lessons to her own family, which has gradually returned to talking politics after avoiding the topic over Thanksgiving dinner, which Katz attended.
Next week, Katz will be back for her family’s Passover seder — but this time she’s excited.
“I expect politics to come up at some point, even when people are choosing what to put on television, which news station,” she said. “But I’m excited to have the seder. If we can each take a deep breath before we go into this and be ready to be open enough to really fully accept the viewpoints at the table without trying to change them right away, I think we can have a really wonderful Passover seder.”
Katz isn’t the only one whose family is riven by politics.
A Reuters/IPSOS poll in January showed that more than one-third of Americans have argued with a family member or close friend about the 2016 election, while one in six have stopped talking to a friend or family member entirely. With Passover among the most widely observed Jewish holidays, the seders will be rife with the risk of a political conflagration.
“We didn’t usually have campaigns that were so openly about putting the other candidate in jail or where hate talk, either open or veiled, was such a continuous thing,” said Andra Medea, author of “Conflict Unraveled: Fixing Problems at Work and in Families.” “It isn’t just the usual cast of winners and losers. For the first time that I’ve seen in awhile, you have whole blocs of the population that actually feel afraid.”
Seders traditionally embrace disputation. The meal’s most known segment is the Four Questions, and several of the Haggadah’s anecdotes retell rabbinic debates. Haggadah commentaries likewise nudge attendees to challenge the details of the hours-long Exodus narrative.
Noam Zion, co-author with his son Mishael of “A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices,” says the original seder was not meant to be a rote reading of the Haggadah but a free-willing symposium on themes of freedom and slavery.
But debating the merits of Rabbi Yosi vs. Rabbi Eliezer is one thing; debating current events is another.
Rabbi Josh Feigelson, the executive director of Ask Big Questions and a co-founder, said the Haggadah can also encourage healthy conversation, structuring the discussion and giving everyone a chance to participate. Worst case, a tense exchange can be ended by moving to the next page.
“The idea of having a shared text, that’s an incredible thing,” Feigelson said. “It makes it democratic. It means everyone has access.”
Medea, who has written extensively about conflict, suggested avoiding political conversation at the seder, using the text as an opportunity to recall moments of family resilience instead of debating the contemporary political implications of slavery and plagues.
“Having the adults get together and fight amongst themselves is a dreadful thing for kids,” Medea said. “Adults can at least agree on, ‘Grandma really had it together.’”
For Jeremy Saltan, an American-Israeli political operative and commentator associated with Israel’s Jewish Home party, Passover is one time he hopes not to ply his trade. His seder will feature someone on the rightward fringe of Israeli politics as well as an activist who has gone to Gaza to support the Palestinian cause.
Saltan would prefer Jewish religious discussion to politics, but he quipped that he might take refuge in another component of the seder.
“Four cups of wine — that seems like the best way to get through that,” he said. “One of the things people need to understand is, when at the seder table or anything else, family is family. You’re still going to have to see these people. You have to have your own coping mechanism in terms of getting through.”
Feigelson said the best way to ensure a healthy conversation is to agree on topics and rules ahead of time — and to stick to them when things get awkward. His organization suggests avoiding conversations on complex topics that are likely to be dominated by one or two people. Instead, true to its name, the group advocates asking big questions everyone can answer, such as “When have you been free?”
“Being able to set some kind of ground rules or intentions about what we want for the seder and what kind of discussion we want there” is crucial, Feigelson said. “If discussion does move to places where there’s not a whole lot of room to maneuver and it’s not reflecting a spirit of wonder and curiosity and generosity, the No. 1 rule is to acknowledge it and name it.”
That’s going to be Katz’s tactic as she sits down at the seder table. She thinks it will work out. But even if it doesn’t, she knows she has no choice but to keep trying.
“I’m going to listen now and I’m going to be open enough this year to what my family has to say,” she said. “I won’t interrupt. It’s either to remove yourself from your family or continuing to engage.”
“I blame myself — it was my fault, and I take full responsibility for it,” Donald Trump said, not once, ever, in his entire life.
Here’s what else the president didn’t say about the rout and ruin of repeal and replace: “I was clueless about health care policy. Instead of reading my briefing books or even my own bill, I played golf. I bullshitted my way through every meeting and phone call. And when it was explained to me that this dumpster fire of a bill would break my promise that everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they are now, which was a huge applause line, by the way, I threw my own voters under the bus.”
In the wake of his Waterloo, instead of manning up, Trump blamed Democrats for not voting to strip health insurance from 24 million people, not voting to cut Medicaid by $880 billion in order to cut taxes by $883 billion and not voting to obliterate the signature legislative accomplishment of the Barack Obama years. “Look,” he complained with crocodile bafflement to The New York Times, “we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero.” Yet not once had Trump or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked a single Democrat what it would take to get them to support a health care bill. “The good news,” Trump said, seeing the sunny side of the catastrophe he predicts is coming, is that the Democrats “now own Obamacare.” Don’t blame me — it’ll be their fault when it explodes, not mine.
Trump blamed Republicans, too. The morning of Friday, March 24, when the bill was still in play, he tweeted that if the Freedom Caucus stops his plan, they would be allowing Planned Parenthood to continue. That afternoon, amid the wreckage, Trump told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa that he was just an innocent bystander. “There are years of problems, great hatred and distrust” in the Republican Party, “and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”
White House aides, bravely speaking without attribution, blamed Ryan for snookering the rookie-in-chief into tackling Obamacare before tax reform. Trump himself told Costa, “I don’t blame Paul.” He repeated it: “I don’t blame Paul.” Then again: “I don’t blame Paul at all.” The laddie doth protest too much, methinks. By tweet time Saturday morning, clairvoyantly touting Jeanine Pirro’s Saturday night Fox News show, Trump had found a surrogate to stick the knife in Ryan without his fingerprints on it. “This is not on President Trump,” Pirro said, avowing that “no one expected a businessman,” “a complete outsider,” to understand “the complicated ins and outs of Washington.” No, it’s on Ryan, she said. Ryan must step down.
Blame precedes politics. In Western civilization’s genesis story, Adam blamed Eve for tempting him, and he blamed God for Eve. But America’s genesis story contains a noble, if apocryphal, counter-narrative: When George Washington’s father asked him who chopped down the cherry tree, the future father of his country didn’t blame someone else — he copped to it. That’s the legacy Harry Truman claimed when put “The buck stops here” sign on his Oval Office desk.
But Trump is the consummate blame artist, a buck-passer on a sociopathic scale. He kicked off his campaign by blaming Mexico for sending us rapists and stealing our jobs. He blamed Hillary Clinton for founding the birther movement. He blamed Obama for founding ISIS. He blamed Obama’s Labor Department for publishing a “phony” unemployment rate. He blamed 3 million illegal voters for his losing the popular vote to Clinton. He blamed the botched raid on Yemen on U.S. generals. When U.S. District Judge James Robart ruled against his Muslim travel ban, he blamed Robart for future terrorism: “If something happens, blame him and the court system.” He blamed “fake news” for treating Michael Flynn, “a wonderful man” whom he fired as his national security adviser, “very, very unfairly.” He blamed Obama for wiretapping Trump Tower. He made his spokesman blame British intelligence for carrying that out. When GCHQ called that a crock, Trump played artful dodger: “All we did was quote … a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
Obamacare is imperfect but fixable. But Trump wants to bomb it, not improve it. He wants to light the fuse and then blame Democrats for exploding it. Trump could shore up the insurance exchanges that cover 10 million Americans by marketing them when enrollment opens again in November — but I bet he won’t. He could instruct government lawyers to appeal a lawsuit halting federal subsidies for co-payments and deductibles of low-income enrollees that House Republicans won last year — but I bet he won’t. On the other hand, he has the power to narrow the essential benefits Obamacare requires insurers to provide by, say, limiting prescription drug coverage and lowering the number of visits allowed for mental health treatment or physical therapy — and I bet he will.
Will Trump get away with it? He’s spent a lifetime banging his highchair and blaming the dog for his mess. No wonder he calls the free press fake news; no wonder he calls citizen activists paid protesters. You call someone who gets away with blaming others “unaccountable.” You know what the antonym of that is? Impeachable.