American Jews have become enamored with and distracted by the political scene. We attribute almost biblical powers to our politicians, and some of us have turned our political party of choice into a quasi-religion. Their platforms have become our 10 Commandments, and canceling our opponents is like some sort of mitzvah — so much so that anyone who disagrees with us is an infidel, to be harassed for their beliefs.
Whether it’s the 2016 or the 2020 presidential election, some fear that America is failing; others feel we’re saved. Either way, when 50% of the country thinks you’re crazy, American Jews are in need of a wakeup call.
The biblical plagues that visited the Egyptians demonstrated there was one power: God. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile, so God literally turned it into a blood bath. Every plague took away another aspect of the Egyptian weltanschauung(worldview), stripping society of its power illusions.
And the greatest illusion of today? The presumption of Western infallibility. Decades ago, Louis Rene Beres, now Professor Emeritus at Purdue University, stated that before the Messiah comes, the West must fall. The glory of Western society — technology, wealth, entertainment — is dominant, successful and full of promise. Okay, so things aren’t perfect. But we’re too distracted to long for Zion and redemption.
The book of Proverbs (21:1) says that the hearts of kings are in God’s hand. Leaders drive current events, which is God’s communication to Man sans prophecy. The last year has been like no other in recent memory. God is talking, saying, “Return, O Jews in Exile. You are majoring in minors. Your priorities need rearranging.”
It’s not about politics. It’s about people!
For a single person to manipulate U.S. politics is beyond anyone, as Donald Trump has learned. As much as the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson influenced American politics, he will be remembered for moving the needle in the Jewish world. This is our opportunity as well. We must look inward to our Jewish people, who are the greatest change agent and highest-leveraged asset with the best ROI in human history.
Politics is not a lifestyle, nor a goal in and of itself. Taken to an extreme, politics had British Jews and German Jews in bloody trench warfare shooting at each other during World War I. Some think that the game we’re playing is Democracy, and the scoreboard counts votes to determine the winner. For American Jews, that’s playing the wrong sport, in the wrong arena, wearing the wrong uniform.
Politics is not a lifestyle nor a goal in and of itself.
So what’s the solution?
God is looking into our hearts to see how much we love our fellow Jews. This is measured by how much we are willing to sit down and listen to the other side. To accept the idea that in some very important issues of our time, intelligent, thoughtful people have come to different conclusions. The Talmud says that the law generally sides with Beit Hillel because they were always careful to consider — and articulate — the other side. Invariably, it’s a win-win, as the result is a more inclusive and deeper perspective.
History teaches that unity is in our best interest. We must find a way to come together, to overlook differences and to celebrate commonalities. Allow the Talmud, which contains every concept known to Man, to be our guide. It is the greatest example of free speech (which is why several attempts have been made to censor it over the millennium). It contains heated debate, where every idea has its day in court. For two millennia it has allowed any and every voice to be heard. No one is silenced.
We believe, as our mentor Rabbi Noah Weinberg (z”l) said, that people of good will can reason together and reach a common conclusion. For truth fears no one.
Around the corner is Purim, marking the anniversary of COVID-19 forcing its way into our lives. It was on Purim that we believed a Jewish queen in the castle would save us. But she couldn’t — not without us realizing our total reliance on God. We had to come together for unified prayers, fasting and repentance.
Let us take a page from history and understand that no political victory or loss brings us closer to redemption if we are a fractured people. We must start talking instead of unfriending each other. Tikkum Olam and polarization cannot coexist.
Tikkum Olam and polarization cannot coexist.
The story of Joseph is not about how to solve the global famine at the time — a catastrophe on a greater scale than what we are experiencing today. God sent the famine so 12 brothers could resolve their differences and form the foundations of Jewish destiny. It’s not the headlines that matter. Jews are the news.
The Jewish contribution to the founding of America is astonishing, with the early Pilgrims viewing the New World as a reenactment of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, and the Hebrew language playing a central role in the first Ivy League universities.
Nobody knows the future, though we have a gnawing sense of society unraveling before our eyes, where some even fear civil war. Grand forces of history are at play.
For the next great Jewish contribution to American society, our response must be to create a Jewish dialogue, to strengthen Jewish values without being political. For this, we need two sides to the conversation.
That’s why we’re creating Jewish Unity 2021, a place of dialogue where we, as a Jewish family, can meet beyond labels or politics, to learn, listen and discuss how to better love and respect one another. A place where we imagine, together, a life neither red nor blue but guided by profound Torah wisdom.
Let’s be a role model for how it’s done. Let’s shine that light — for our country, and for the American Jewish future.
Rabbi Aryeh Markman is the Executive Director of Aish LA. Rabbi Shraga Simmons is the co-founder of Aish.com and HonestReporting.com. They can be reached at [email protected]