Wednesday, June 14, could have turned into a day of mourning as a gunman opened fire and injured five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is, as of this writing, in critical condition. This incident has prompted bipartisanship and unity nationwide amid a time of toxic political divisions and mistrust.
The Jewish community is no exception to the call for achdut, or unity.
Like the rest of the country, the American Jewish community has been divided along partisan lines. While 71 percent of Jews voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, only 24 percent of them voted for now-President Donald Trump.
Articles such as “Dear Allies, Don’t Downplay Anti-Semitism in Trump’s America” and “Jews Must Oppose Trump’s New Order” only further the divide between American Jews. On a trip to Selma, Alabama, with the Hillel of my now-
alma mater George Washington University to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery that lead to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Shabbat drasha (lecture) by GW professor Dan Schwartz was a political rant against those who supported and voted for Trump.
“To avoid politics would be untrue to Selma and untrue, frankly, to the moment in American history and Jewish history in which we find ourselves,” he said.
While the following counterpoint may appear hypocritical to the overall point of this article, respectfully, Schwartz doesn’t speak for me nor for my fellow Jews. During the 2016 election and after, Jewish groups cried that Trump’s beliefs don’t coincide with Jewish beliefs, yet his opponent’s foundation received money from Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which notoriously violate human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. Is benefiting from countries that violate these rights consistent with Jewish beliefs? I’m afraid that uttering this refutation would have been met dismissively. Which only underscores the lack of mature and substantive dialogue in the Jewish community.
Nachama Soloveichik eloquently stated in National Review, “There has long been an expectation in Jewish circles that members of the tribe should support leftist policies and candidates. The thinking is that the Jews’ centuries-long persecution compels them to support the party that professes to protect persecuted minorities. Like women and African Americans, leftists are often shocked to stumble across the existence of conservatives who are Jewish, female, or black.”
“This is a new form of liberal audacity that seeks to tell Jews what to believe and how to practice their faith. It is not just a moral imperative to raise taxes, support gay marriage, and legalize abortion. It is now a religious imperative, as if G-d Himself descended on the National Mall and decreed it so,” Soloveichik said. “American democracy and Jewish tradition share a common appreciation for the power of debate. Not only is debate sanctioned, it is encouraged. Disagreement and challenge help us achieve greater understanding and clarity, provided we do it respectfully and constructively. When leftists exploit Judaism as a political weapon, they discredit their own position as well as the religion they claim to uphold.”
Although there is a need for Jews to speak out against injustice, pushing an agenda that may alienate fellow Jews can be antithetical to achdut. Ultimately, we need our political debates in the community to reflect the value of v’ahavta l’raycha kamocha: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All Jews, regardless of background or religiosity, must be included in the dialogue, especially among their fellow yids, including when connecting politics to Jewish values.
Let’s judge our fellow Jews not by their background, rather by their character. Let’s take off the blinders and hear different points of view even if you have a preconceived notion about how one side thinks of an issue. Maybe just hearing that other side, even if you still disagree, can provide perspective.
The Talmud teaches that the second Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem,was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. It’s terrible that people hate the Jews, but it’s worse that there’s hatred among Jews.
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one: American Jews, like other groups in America, are having the trouble conducting mature and substantive conversations about today’s pressing issues.
Let us pray that, along with a full recovery for Scalise and those affected by the shooting, what transpired on that fateful Wednesday morning inspires a step toward unity among our fellow Jews and Americans.
By Jackson Richman
Capital Commentary/Op-Ed Contributor