One Year Af­ter Trump’s Elec­tion, Who Are We?

Who Are We?

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Jane Eis­ner

Most Amer­i­can Jews awak­ened on Nov. 9, 2016, in a pro­found state of shock, fury, fear, be­wil­der­ment and dis­il­lu­sion­ment. That is not a par­ti­san state­ment. It is a po­lit­i­cal fact.

Don­ald Trump was pas­sion­ately op­posed by most Amer­i­can Jews. Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion finds even fewer sup­port­ers among them.

What hap­pened a year ago was un­like any other dra­matic trans­fer of power in Wash­ing­ton in re­cent his­tory. “The elec­tion of Trump has ex­ac­er­bated every ten­sion and fault line that ex­isted in Amer­ica — po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural, racial, eco­nomic, psy­cho­log­i­cal — and has done sim­i­larly in Amer­i­can Jewish life,” says Rabbi Ir­win Kula, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Jewish Cen­ter for Learn­ing and Lead­er­ship.

Trump’s as­cen­dancy ac­cel­er­ated trends that were al­ready chal­leng­ing the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive of the con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence. Jews can no longer think of them­selves as a safe, se­cure model mi­nor­ity — not with the burst­ing forth of an­tiSemitism from the right, which, un­like the anti-Semitism mas­querad­ing as anti-Zion­ism on the left, has been sanctioned by Trump him­self.

No longer can Jews rely on the au­to­matic pro­tec­tion of civic in­sti­tu­tions like Congress, the ju­di­ciary and the me­dia to hold gov­ern­ment and pow­er­ful eco­nomic in­ter­ests ac­count­able — not when the pres­i­dent and his acolytes are sys­tem­at­i­cally try­ing to un­der­mine demo­cratic norms and val­ues, and re­spect for the rule of law.

No longer can Jews count on a civil pub­lic dis­course. Not with the pres­i­dent drag­ging the coun­try into the gut­ter in 140 char­ac­ters or less.

To com­pound the chal­lenge, th­ese as­saults on the civic sta­tus quo are oc­cur­ring when many legacy com­mu­nal in­sti­tu­tions are strug­gling to sur­vive, when a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­can Jews are be­com­ing un­af­fil­i­ated with or­ga­nized re­li­gion and when there’s an in­creas­ing dis­en­gage­ment from Is­rael.

But this is also a mo­ment alive with op­por­tu­nity. As Kula notes, “At the same time that there is this in­creased po­lar­iza­tion and frac­ture, just like in the Amer­i­can body politic, there is in the Jewish body politic in­creased po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, civic en­gage­ment, grass­roots ac­tiv­ity, com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing, and re­li­gious and cul­tural creativ­ity.”

In the seeds of all that’s gone wrong in the last year is the chance to make some bold, new choices. As Rabbi Sharon Brous told her IKAR com­mu­nity in Los An­ge­les on Rosh Hashanah, “It is pre­cisely in our mo­ments of great­est dan­ger that we must af­firm ex­actly who we are.”

So a year af­ter Trump’s cat­a­clysmic elec­tion, who are we and who should we be?

To be­gin with, who is this “we”? Do the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­can Jews who pro­foundly dis­agree with Trump try to build bridges and un­der­stand the mi­nor­ity of Amer­i­can Jews on the other side — es­pe­cially since some of them hold sub­stan­tial po­lit­i­cal power and still re­tain a fair amount of con­trol over com­mu­nal spend­ing?

Rabbi Shai Held, one of the founders and pres­i­dents of Me­chon Hadar, isn’t sure. “I think the Trump fault line is more com­plex than right ver­sus left,” he tells me. “It’s Jews on the left and in the cen­ter, and many Jews on the right as well, who un­der­stand that Trump is en­tirely un­fit for of­fice, that he lacks even a mod­icum of in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity, moral pro­bity or emo­tional ma­tu­rity. More, he holds many of Amer­ica’s most sa­cred in­sti­tu­tions, like an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary and a free press, in ut­ter dis­dain.”

“I think peo­ple of con­science need to be much more fo­cused on pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions than on out­reach to the Jewish Trump camp.”

Per­son­ally, I strug­gle with this. I be­lieve in di­a­logue and mu­tual re­spect. When on Rosh Hashanah my rabbi told the con­gre­ga­tion that we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to like other Jews, but we must strive to love them, that res­onated with me. It’s im­por­tant for Blue State Jews to un­der­stand Red State Jews, and vice versa. It’s im­por­tant that all of us ques­tion our as­sump­tions and con­clu­sions.

But I ap­pre­ci­ate Held’s finer point: The fault lines in our com­mu­nity and in our coun­try run dan­ger­ously deep. Th­ese dis­tinc­tions go well beyond dif­fer­ences over the best pol­icy on immi-

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