Opinion |

Hold the Jewish Leaders Silent on Trump’s Toxic Hate to Account

In the absence of any condemnation of Trump’s bigotries, we’ve found out much about the shamelessness, spinelessness and expediency of, among others, Jewish religious and political leaders and organizations.

Rabbi Shai Held
Rabbi Shai Held
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Demonstrators gather to protest a day after Donald Trump was elected president, November 9, 2016.
Demonstrators gather to protest a day after Donald Trump was elected president, November 9, 2016.Credit: Ringo Chiu, AFP
Rabbi Shai Held
Rabbi Shai Held

The grief is intense. Is it really possible that the United States of America has just elected a hate-mongering charlatan as its 45th President?

The fear is real: Donald Trump is a man who has time and again evinced profound disrespect for the democratic institutions that make this country great. He has promised attacks on the free press and threatened to reject democratic elections should they fail to go his way. Around the world, he is seen as a buffoon and a laughing stock, yet his having access to the nuclear codes should be terrifying to every sentient being.

The anxiety is legitimate: Trump has never hidden his disdain for women and minorities. He has enabled and emboldened white nationalists; as the results came in, many took to social media to intimidate Jews, some suggesting that they planned to turn Jews into bars of soap.

The outrage is appropriate: Donald Trump spends his life belittling those he perceives as weak. There can be no greater antithesis to elemental decency than this.

And yet here we are. There will be time enough for soul-searching: so many of us were, and are, so out of touch with the hopes and aspirations (and hatreds) of much of the country that few if any of us really saw this coming.

There ought also to be a moral accounting. The fact that so many political leaders showed themselves to be spineless opportunists is infuriating. Despite detesting Trump and much of what he stands for, they nevertheless found it personally expedient to support him. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which refused to condemn Trump’s behavior even when he played into the crudest and most enduring stereotypes of Jews, may revel in its victory, but make no mistake: over the course of this campaign, they sold their souls. After stubbornly refusing to condemn Trump's assorted bigotries, the RJC now has the gall to lambast the ADL for speaking out about Trump. The shamelessness is staggering.

The fact that so many religious leaders supported a man who detests the vulnerable is a scandal that stinks to high heaven; for people of conscience, such leaders are now (or, rather, should now be) utterly discredited. Jerry Falwell, Jr., for example, declared months ago that "Donald Trump is God's man to lead our nation." Despite Trump’s repeated descent into vulgarity, cruelty, and crudeness, Falwell held fast. One shudders at the thought of what the God who loves immigrants (Deuteronomy 10:18) makes of religious leaders who celebrate politicians who detest them.

There is difficult work ahead. We will need to find ways to engage with white America’s pain, even as we reject (without equivocation) its bigotries and racialized resentments. And we will have to deal with the inevitable rage and disappointment when people realize that they have been conned, that Donald Trump does not actually care a whit about the working class.

We stand with those who are feeling vulnerable and exposed. We hope to have the courage and fortitude to stand with those who are under assault in this country.

Today I have heard from gay parents whose kids are afraid they will be taken away from them; from a gay couple who are afraid that their marriage will be dissolved; from Muslims who fear wearing a hijab in public; from Jews who are wondering for the first time about whether and where it's safe to wear a kippah in public; from blacks who are terrified of being attacked by white supremacists. The list, no doubt, goes on and on.

Many of us find ourselves looking for something to hold onto. Some have asked whether I have anything to offer. Like everyone else, I need some time to absorb the shock, the horror, and the unspeakable disappointment.

For now, I will just say this: we are called to commit our lives to love and to justice.

We commit to love in a world consumed by hate, and especially at a time when America has just elected a man who is a walking brew of toxic hate. We commit to justice in a world fueled by injustice, and especially at a time when America has elected a man who has no understanding at all of what justice means. So we can and must fight for love and for justice.

But make no mistake: a commitment to love and to justice will require a willingness to resist; resistance takes courage, and courage is a rare commodity indeed.

Now is the time to begin to take action, however small. If you worry about hate groups, consider supporting the Anti-Defamation League. If you care about gun control, consider supporting Everytown USA. If you want to take up the plight of immigrants, consider supporting HIAS. If the fate of our planet cries out to you, consider supporting the Sierra Club.

This is the easy part. We will need to pay careful attention and respond to Trump’s agenda as the moment requires. Standing for love and justice in Trump's America may exact a greater cost than many of us are used to paying. But if we are committed to standing with the vulnerable, we will have no real choice but to bear that burden.

In these dark days for America. we must hold each other tight and keep reminding ourselves: love and justice. It is as simple and as excruciatingly difficult as that.

Rabbi Shai Held, a Jewish theologian and educator, is the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence and the forthcoming The Heart of Torah.

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