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Post Presidential Election Reflections

L’Fi Dati: As I See It

A message from Rabbi Weintraub
10th November 2016
Dear Friends,

I would like to address members of our community in the wake of yesterday’s election of Donald Trump as our 45th President. Forgive me if I address certain groups separately.

First, to our members who voted for Donald Trump: Todah. I am grateful to you because you took the time to weigh in seriously about this very consequential choice; our President impacts the lives not only of three hundred million Americans but of people all over our planet. In exercising your right to vote, you sustained the functions and values of our democracy. You gave voice to the fears, hopes and political recommendations of millions of Americans who felt forgotten. I hope that as we go forward now and try to unite a polarized country, you will enjoy respect and listening ears. Please speak up energetically within our Kane Street community.

To our members who voted for Hillary Clinton: Todah. I am grateful to you because you also took responsibility for our country and the world by your advocacy and your voting. You stood up for minority groups, some long persecuted, who were especially under attack in this campaign. Since early this morning I have sensed in many of you what pastors and therapists identify as first signs of bereavement: shock, disbelief, a lack of words, even physiological reactions like difficulty sleeping and forgetfulness. This is natural. You have suffered a great loss, with many using words like “nightmare”, “catastrophe”, and “tragedy.”

In our tradition, this initial phase of bereavement is called aninut. It is generally marked by quiet, and the silent support of dear ones who help the mourner accept the loss and begin mourning. It is not the time for major decisions, “getting even,” post-mortem analyses, or planning for the future. It is a time to check in on those who are close to you to see how they are coping. Planning ahead waits until after shiva, when the heart is more healed and the head more clear.

To all: We need to take each other’s positions seriously and start a robust but respectful discourse. Here, I will make a personal viddui, confession. I let myself get swallowed up in the endless, and cheaply entertaining cycle of character analysis and putdowns which marked this campaign. I also got so incensed by the racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia of some that I failed to adequately explore the political positions and passions of many.

To parents with children: Kids have incredible antennae and even at very young ages sense it when adults are sad or alarmed. We are not as good at covering it up as we think we are. So you have to address what’s going on even with young children (I mean like four or five). On the other hand, we teach according to one’s capacity to learn. So speak calmly with children. Avoid using extreme language—nightmare, catastrophe, tragedy—which may be OK with adult friends but not with children. Be mindful of your language and decibel level when having political discussions with adults within earshot of children. Address the atrocious statements which politicians have made, but point out that as Americans we can do better. Tell kids that we are now in a difficult moment in our country, but things will improve. Invite them to think of a time in their lives when things looked very bleak, and then got better.

As I told the children in Hebrew School this afternoon, we have been around as Americans for 240 years, and as Jews for 3000 years because the politics of both communities were smart and sensitive, cherishing the sacred dignity of the individual, the importance of inclusion in society, the resolution of conflict by peaceful, even if argumentative and at times maddeningly gradual discourse, and increasing empowerment over time for formerly marginalized groups. Side note: I was blown away by the ethical and intellectual maturity of these eight, ten and twelve year olds, who spoke with respect about our President-elect and his supporters even if deeply dismayed by the election results.

Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur were not so long ago. Then, we prayed , “Ut’shuva, ut’fila, utz’daka, ma’avirim et ro’a hag’zera,” “Repentance/self reflection, Prayer/faith, and Charity/social righteousness avert the severity of the decree.”

This past year was a G’zeira R’a’a, a severe decree. None of us, especially not our children, deserved the ugliness and sinat chinam, gratuitous, pointless hatred of the campaign. But we can restore ourselves and our country by honest self-assessment (especially on a social level, which is harder than individual); specific acts of Tikkun Olam/social justice to restore social solidarity, and faith, reminding ourselves that we have survived and flourished as a people because, beginning with Abraham and Sarah in this week’s Torah Portion, Lech l’cha, “Get going!”, we were willing to leave, voluntarily or involuntarily, what was familiar or expected, and with trust in G-d create new, compassionate communities.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Weintraub

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