11 November 2016
10 Marcheshvan 5777
So much has already been written and said about the presidential election. I am not sure that I have much to add nor that I want to follow my inclination to rush immediately to words. At the same time, we began this week to process the election with our students, and these are the reflections I shared with them.
In the aftermath of what has been a toxic, painful, presidential election, many in our community and country feel a sense of joy and hope. They feel as if their voices have finally been heard, hopeful that they are no longer being left behind, that the future will bring more security and prosperity to them, our country, and the world. Yet, many in our community and country feel sadness, loss, anger, and fear. There is sadness that we cannot yet tell our sons and daughters that a woman truly can hold any office in the land. There is fear of the unknown, of an unpredictable future, and of what might lie ahead in terms of the rights, freedom, and dignity of different groups and individuals, especially the most vulnerable in our society. All of these feelings are real, they are deep, and they will not go away.
We need to give ourselves and each other time to feel these feelings and to process this election in whatever ways necessary. The process of healing, rebuilding, and reconnecting with one another goes through these feelings, not around them. In our own community we have immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and others who are feeling particularly vulnerable and who need to know that we embrace you. We also need to seek to understand those who feel differently about this election and the future of our country. One of the lessons of this election is about people losing touch with and losing empathy for one another. We begin to repair this by reaffirming our core value of chibur, connection, by remembering that we actually live in this country and this world together. It is easier to connect with people who think, feel, and experience the world in a similar way. The real work of humility, patience, and empathy is to seek out and stay in relationship with those who think differently, sometimes radically different.
Some of us are also feeling demoralized and concerned about the social fabric of our country and the state of our democracy. So many members of our community—including students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff—were activists during this election. You worked hard on behalf of your candidates and your ideals; you were confident and passionate about your values and vision for this country. For many, the election did not go your way, and this can feel like failure and loss. I want to remind you how resilient we are as human beings and as a nation. We should be proud that so many of us fought hard, voted, participated in debates and discussions about candidates, issues, policy, and laws, and showed kavod—honor and care—for this country and every person in it by investing in its character and its future. We should also be proud and grateful that we live in a democracy with free and peaceful elections and transfer of power, in which the people really have a voice. This is a great blessing.
It is also a great responsibility to which we should recommit ourselves right now. As the work of this new administration begins, so, too, our work continues—of being citizens and activists, who stand up with the courage of our convictions for the rights and dignity of every human being and who work hard to close the gaps between our hopeful vision of what this country and our community can and should become and the reality of where we are today. Let us recommit to being activists—to contributing our voices to the ongoing debates about our future and to speaking our truths while having the humility to recognize that we do not own the Truth nor have all of the answers.
Lastly, while we can and should continue to disagree about how to translate our values into public policy, I want to remind us that there are core values that should guide our behavior, speech, and treatment of one another. As a parent and educator, I feel saddened and deeply sorry to our children that this election season has been filled with rhetoric and behavior that are hateful and hurtful, that denigrate, divide, and incite. I pray that this kind of language and behavior has not and will not become normal, widespread, and acceptable. I call upon each of us to recommit ourselves through our speech and our actions to ensure that this does not happen.
We, as a community and a people, understand the power of language to create and heal or to destroy. Our mission to create a vibrant Jewish future and build a better world is defined by the flourishing of human dignity. The realization of this mission begins with the small nekudot bechira (the bechira points, the choices) that each and everyone one of us faces: from moment to moment, how will we speak and act and treat one another? Let us move forward with kindness and compassion. Let us also be vigilant about the dignity of others and stand up if and when we see that dignity violated—in large ways or small.
I feel tremendous gratitude to be part of this community and to be a citizen of this great, imperfect country. I also feel hope that, together, we can heal our broken world.
Let me conclude with an excerpt from Lewis Ginzberg’s Prayer for Our Government:
God of all that lives, please bestow Your spirit on all the inhabitants of our land, and plant love, fellowship, peace and friendship between the different communities and faiths that dwell here. Uproot from their hearts all hate, animosity, jealousy and strife, in order to fulfill the longings of its people, who aspire for its dignity, and desire to see it as a light for all nations.
Rabbi Marc Baker