Opinion

Torah-true and Anti-Trump, and We Won't Hide Any More

Charlottesville, and our community's passive reaction, catalyzed many more American Orthodox Jews to brave ostracism, and go public with their revulsion for Donald Trump and his serial violations of our religious values

The 'Torah Trumps Hate' Facebook page
Facebook

Almost exactly half a year ago, I wrote about the loneliness and the ostracism of anti-Trump Orthodox Jews (Quiet and Fearful: Inside the Orthodox Jewish anti-Trump Movement.)

I had been receiving messages from hidden anti-Trump Jews who felt alone and confused. "I have never felt like like so much of an outsider in the frum community as I do today...I still fundamentally agree that Torah is true, but cannot imagine myself existing within an observant community anymore."

We were alone, hidden, in pain, and only beginning to get in touch with each other. But a lot can happen in half a year.

My work, my life, is about building communities, mosty online, with the potential to bring together the silenced and the unheard. So when I received a message after the article came out: "Have you heard about the secret Facebook group 'Torah Trumps Hate?'" - I jumped at the chance.

I had seen a few Facebook groups pop up for Orthodox Jews since the election, but none of them seemed to gain much momentum. This one was different.

It was run by Victoria Cook, a woman who doesn’t consider herself Orthodox anymore, and yet had somehow created a vibrant group of people from the same pool who had messaged me, finding them through her Orthodox friends. She worked conscientiously, daily, to keep the community thriving and alive.

Activists hold placards while taking part in the "Rise and Resist Against White Supremacy" rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 18, 2017.
JEENAH MOON/REUTERS

There were a few hundred people in the group, and the posts were similar to the type of emails I received. Venting. Crying. Complaining.

We’d also found people who shared our values, who didn’t just agree with our revulsion at Trump’s election but with our deeply-held beliefs. With the idea that God could never want a Jew or anyone who cared about bringing good into the world to support the voting in of a man who bragged about sexual assault and who had openly considered the idea of putting a minority religion in internment camps.

But the power of online communities is not just that they provide a home for those who feel alone. It is that, when there is a need for them, they can grow quickly. As Victoria continued her tireless work, and as more and more Orthodox Jews started adding the friends who had quietly whispered that they also felt alone in their anti-Trump views, the group began to turn into something else: A community that was empowered, and alive.

Less complaining. More ideas for when and how to resist. Whom to protest with. Discussions about whether it made sense to march with people would ostracize us if we are vocal about being pro-Israel. But even still, there was further to go.

Two events pushed us. One horrible, the other beautiful.

First, Charlottesville. And the horrific, quiet, empty reaction of the Orthodox community to the event itself and especially to the president’s "all sides" remarks.

We had been in horror before, but this was different. This was beyond Trump. This was Nazis in the streets. Chants for Jews to be killed. Terrorism. Death.

Almost overnight, we realized being a support group was not enough. The Orthodox community had been quiet. But we were also an Orthodox community. One that was nearing 1,500 strong by that point.

Donald Trump's personal Twitter account with a photo of the president at the Western Wall
Screen grab

And then Blimi Marcus, one of our members, wrote about us and a WhatsApp-based Hasidic resistance group. Many of those who had stayed quiet up to that point shared the article, proudly proclaiming their participation. Which led to other Orthodox Jews and former Orthodox Jews reaching out to join. In a few days, we added hundreds of members.

The result of both of these events: we realized that we can't continue to sit quietly in the wings complaining. We anti-Trump, pro-Torah values Jews should neither be relegated - nor self-relegated - to the shadows anymore. And those of us who have spoken up are no longer lone wolves out in the wilderness. We are a pack, and we are coming out into the world.

And so we’ve gone public. We have private discussions within our group, but we now also have a public, activist identity for those who are no longer interested in lurking, but in marching, speaking, yelling.

On the day after Yom Kippur, October 1st, we will march in Brooklyn in support of the March For Racial Justice, our first collective act of public participation. Who knows how many will actually come, but we have hundreds who have said they are interested in joining us.

Six months ago I suggested that these unveiled "hidden voices" point to a deeper transformation of Orthodox life that's in train: changing our narrative "from uniform to diverse and vibrant. One where we are not trying to fit in, but trying to stand out."

In only a few months, it’s already starting to happen: unleashed, this deeper movement, overcoming the fear of ostracism, is not waiting in the wings any longer.

Elad Nehorai is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hevria, a publication for creative Jews, and the blogger behind Pop Chassid. Twitter: @PopChassid and   @TorahTrumpsHate