Human Rights and the Environment

Sixty-nine years ago on December 10, 1948, forty-eight nations signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1]. This historic document resulting as a consequence of crimes committed against humanity during World War II was the first global expression of what constitute inherent human rights for all human beings.

On this Shabbat coinciding with the anniversary of its signing, “T’ruah – The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights” invited hundreds of American rabbis and their synagogues to focus on the most dangerous threat to human rights on the planet – climate change.

The theme of climate change coinciding with the Declaration of Human Rights couldn’t have been calendared at a more propitious moment given President-Elect Trump’s selection this week as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a proven ally of the fossil fuel industry and arguably the greatest climate change denier in the United States.

Pruitt’s selection ought to chill the blood of anyone who accepts what 90% or greater of all scientists believe to be settled fact, that human-made greenhouse gas emissions have caused a 1.7 degree Fahrenheit warming of the earth since records were kept in 1880 and that virtually all warming since 1950 has been caused by the human release of greenhouse gasses.

In an article from the NY Times explaining what climate change is and does and what are the politics surrounding it, we read this about people like Trump and Pruitt:

“The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives.” [2]

The truth, of course, is otherwise – that if we can’t find enough carbon neutral energy as a way to limit global climate disruption, we won’t be able to grow enough food and there will be no space in which we can protect fundamental human rights around the world. Unless we successfully find a way nor will societies be able to maintain democratic governments.

We need not look very far to see evidence of the danger. In the past year increasing fear of Syrian refugees has helped to invigorate right-wing and proto-fascist policies in Great Britain and Europe.

Rabbi David Seidenberg, an activist, writer, and scholar on environmental issues, has written from a Jewish perspective about the climate change threat:

“The intersection between the economy and human rights is … not only found in opposing the building of a toxic waste incinerator near a poor community, or fighting the exposure of children to endocrine-disrupting pesticides…[or] is it in the perceived moments of conflict between human rights and the environment, such as the false choice between making jobs and saving a forest… A deeper intersection is found in the great human tragedy that could accompany global warming. If predictions hold and the rising sea creates millions of refugees from coastal areas, then shelter, which should be a [basic human right], will become an impossibility. Any government trying to protect the most basic human needs and rights would find itself in extreme crisis under such circumstances, and many governments will be tempted to discard human rights in the name of national emergency…Where we find the deepest depths is…where human rights…makes us blind to our place in the earth …” [3]

Scientists warn that if we allow the warming of the environment, the polar ice caps will continue to melt, the seas will rise, and there will be greater, more frequent and damaging coastal flooding. Rainfall will become heavier in many parts of the world and hurricanes and typhoons will become more intense. There will be a massive extinction of plants and animals, more waves of refugees will flee their lands, and more governments will be destabilized.

What do we do?

First, we all need to become activists and protest the Trump administration’s expected elimination of regulations on the fossil-fuel industry.

We need to support the Paris Climate agreement’s implementation, and in every way reduce our own individual carbon footprints. If large numbers of people did so it would make a difference. Suggestions include insulating homes, reducing our use of power, using efficient light bulbs, turning off lights and heaters, driving fewer miles, taking fewer airplane trips, and reducing or eliminating the eating of beef.

In the Book of Genesis, the first humans were given dominion over the land [4]. Though we were given the privilege to have use of the land and its resources for our benefit, later Jewish tradition gave a warning to the irresponsible use of and the waste of our natural resources:

“Upon presenting the wonder of creation to Adam, God said: ‘See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.” [5]

When this Midrash was written some 1500 years ago, the intent was likely focused on specific towns and villages. Today, we are confronted with a threat to all life on the earth.

[Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles will celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday, December 10 at 6:30 PM and we will focus our attention during services on climate change and human rights. All are welcome.]
Notes:

[1] General Assembly resolution 217 A.
[2] “Short Answers to Hard Questions about Climate Change”, by Justin Gillis, NYTimes, November 28, 2015.
[3] https://www.google.com/#q=Human+rights+and+ecology+-+david+seidenberg).
[4] Genesis 1:28.
[5] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28.

“What Type of Jew are you?” – A Response to Shmuel Rosner’s JJ Column

This week the LA Jewish Journal published a piece written by its Israel correspondent Shmuel Rosner entitled “What type of Jew are you?” (link – #1 below)

Rosner reflected on a new study of the Boston Jewish community, but the trends revealed reflect what I sense is true across the country. The study’s findings show how complex is Jewish engagement among American Jews today.

Rosner distinguished five distinct groups: the Minimally Involved (17%) who do almost nothing specifically Jewish; the Familial (24%) who engage mostly in home-based and family Jewish events and celebrations; Affiliated Jews (26%) who are engaged with their families and in some Jewish communal organizations; Cultural Jews (18%) who in addition to family events, listen to Jewish and/or Israeli music, go Israeli folk-dancing, read Jewish books, see films and attend theater on Jewish themes; and the Immersed (15%) who engage in all areas.

In Boston, two-thirds of the Jewish community has been to Israel at least once, and a third has visited many times, a rate higher I suspect than in Los Angeles. A national trend that was also revealed in the last Pew study of the American Jewish community in 2013 (link – #2 below) showed that increasing numbers of Jews don’t identify any longer with denominations. Of the roughly 6 million American Jews at least 50% (maybe higher) regard themselves as secular and cultural Jews or just plain Jewish.

The Boston and Pew studies each showed that people identify increasingly less with Jewish religion and increasingly more with Jewish peoplehood. And so the question of the hour is this that Rosner asks – “What type of Jew are you?”

This is how he characterizes the five groups (see a longer study  – #3 below).

Half of the “Immersed Jews” keep kosher at home, light Shabbat candles and attend Shabbat services regularly. They celebrate Pesach, light Chanukah candles, attend High Holiday services, donate to Jewish causes, and identify as Jews “by religion.” Almost all are affiliated.

Most “Cultural Jews” don’t do religious ritual at all, nor do they attend religious services unless invited to a special event such as a bar or bat mitzvah, and they don’t keep Kosher. But 80% of them are highly engaged with Israel, seek news from Israel often and attend Jewish programs. Though not religious, they do attend Seders, light candles on Chanukah, and attend High Holiday services.

“Affiliated Jews” practice the big Jewish holidays, affiliate with synagogues, donate to Jewish causes, but aren’t engaged religiously. They listen to Jewish music a little, attend services occasionally, and may partake in kosher food on occasion at an event. Affiliated Jews tend to be between the ages of 35 and 64 years and most have children who they want to “educate,” provide a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or give them a taste of Judaism.

“Familial Jews” attend family Seders and light Chanukah candles, but they don’t do much else ritually or religiously, though a third attend a Jewish program or donate to Jewish causes. They generally keep in touch with Jewish life and don’t consciously distance themselves from the community. Their deeper Jewish engagement does not extend into the community beyond the home. Many of these “familial Jews” are intermarried and unaffiliated.

A third of the “Minimally Involved” light Chanukah candles, have attended a Jewish program in the last year, but have little engagement with anything Jewish. In Boston, and I suspect here in Los Angeles, many minimally involved are Russian Jews. Most are unaffiliated and intermarried.

So – what kind of Jew are you? Immersed – Cultural – Affiliated – Familial – or Minimally Involved?

More questions: What is your Jewish narrative that has brought you to the Jewish identification that you have? Are you satisfied and at peace with this kind of identification? Are you fully fulfilled as you might wish to be in your life as a Jew?

These are questions all of us ought to be asking ourselves.

I wasn’t surprised by the survey’s findings, except for one thing – that the connection American Jews feel with the state of Israel is the strongest element in all of these five groups. The survey suggests that there is a strong connection between a Jew’s engagement with Israel and his/her engagement with Jewish life. Distancing from Israel co-relates with a distancing from Judaism and Jewish life just as the more engaged with Jewish life we are the more we tend to be engaged with Israel.

Put another way, a Jew’s relationship to Israel is a barometer of his/her relationship to Judaism.

I’ve drawn five additional conclusions from the study:

  1. It’s a mistake for us to judge anyone else’s engagement as a Jew, however much or little that is, especially in an era in which the community is changing so rapidly;
  2. There needs to be a multitude of opportunities for engagement and inspiration – through education – religion – family – culture – the arts – social justice work – and Israel;
  3. We are not an ever-dying people – we’re an ever-changing people;
  4. The depth and breadth of our relationships with other Jews is the best prognosticator of our depth and breadth of engagement in Jewish life;
  5. The more meaningful the Jewish education and learning is, the more welcoming are our communities, the more visionary is our Jewish agenda, so too will more of us be inspired to engage in ways that move our people forward creatively and meaningfully.

May we each find our way.

  1. http://www.jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/item/what_type_of_a_jew_are_you
  2. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/
  3. “Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity” – The Jewish People Policy Institute – http://jppi.org.il/uploads/Exploring_the_Jewish_Spectrum_in_a_Time_of_Fluid_Identity-JPPI.pdf

 

Trump’s Conflicts of Interest and How America Lost its “F**king Mind” – 2 Important Articles

So much is being written post-election that it is difficult to find some of the best pieces. These two below, however, offer important information and perspective on the election of Donald Trump and I recommend both.

1. Electoral College must reject Trump unless he sells his business, top lawyers for Bush and Obama say – Ethics lawyers for the last two presidents are in agreement.
Think Progress, Judd Legun, Editor-In-Chief, November 23, 2016

“Members of the Electoral College should not make Donald Trump the next president unless he sells his companies and puts the proceeds in a blind trust, according to the top ethics lawyers for the last two presidents. Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, and Norman Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama, believe that if Trump continues to retain ownership over his sprawling business interests by the time the electors meet on December 19, they should reject Trump.”

see – https://thinkprogress.org/electoral-college-trump-top-lawyers-8a8b6e0ca916#.vyrujts2v
2. How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind
By David Wong, October 12, 2016 – “Cracked”

I’m going to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon… [The tense divide between Hillary Clinton’s supporters and Donal Trump’s is characterized in this way]…primitive vs. advanced, tough vs. delicate, masculine vs. feminine, poor vs. rich, pure vs. decadent, traditional vs. weird. All of it is code for rural vs. urban…. Blue islands in an ocean of red. The cities are less than 4 percent of the land mass, but 62 percent of the population and easily 99 percent of the popular culture. Our movies, shows, songs, and news all radiate out from those blue islands… the racism of my youth was always one step removed. I never saw a family member, friend, or classmate be mean to the actual black people we had in town. We worked with them, played video games with them, waved to them when they passed. What I did hear was several million comments about how if you ever ventured into the city, winding up in the “wrong neighborhood” meant you’d get dragged from your car, raped, and burned alive. Looking back, I think the idea was that the local minorities were fine … as long as they acted exactly like us.”

http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/

Isaac and Rebekah – a poem

I wrote this poem a few years ago based on the story of Isaac as it appears in this week’s parasha. I read it again today and found it somehow comforting and hopeful in these days, and so I offer it again.

My father Abraham set out alone,
Leaving everything he knew,
seeking a better place
where he’d never been
because God promised him
a blessing and a future.

But my heart is broken.
I yearn for solace.
My mother is dead
because my father stole me away
before dawn
while she slept.

Her servants reported to her
that he placed me
upon the pyre
as a burnt offering
to his God.

But an angel saved me.

How she loved me,
filling me up
like a goblet
with laughter
and tears.

And now I am alone
amidst the wheat and rocks,
beneath the sun and stirred-up clouds
swirling above
like disturbed angels.

Can You hear me –
Merciless God?
Comfort me now
and bend Your word
that she may return
as we were.

Looking up
I see a camel caravan
and people walking
like small sticks in the sand.

There is my father’s servant Eliezer
and a young girl.

Lasuach basadeh –
I pray and weep
beneath the afternoon sun
and swirling clouds,
and angels singing.

Rebekah to Eliezer –
‘Who is that man
crying alone
in the field?’

‘He is my master Isaac,
your intended one,
whose seed you will carry
as God promised his father.’

Vatipol min hagamal –
“And she alighted from her camel”
and veiled herself
for a wedding.

I entered her
in my mother’s tent,
and she comforted me.

Thank You, God!

Let the optimism in you die hard

I‘m an optimist. I resist the “half-empty” glass. I look for the best in others. At times, I suffer the consequences, but seeing the good helps me to feel better and remain upbeat even in times of crisis. As a manager of people, I’ve found that it’s far more effective to encourage their sparks of creativity and goodness, intelligence and decency that to be overly critical and negative.

I’m well aware, of course, that everyone errs, uses bad judgment, succumbs to ego, appears foolish, behaves destructively, and gives license to their darker angels. But I stay hopeful anyway as a necessary hedge against despair.

That being said I’ve had an excruciatingly difficult time as has half the country’s voting population (that is, half + 2 million and still counting!!!!!!!) since the election. I worry and am still mourning the multi-cultural, inclusive, diverse, and visionary politics of the Obama era.

Of course, the President has not been perfect. He made his share of mistakes. But I love what he tried to do for the nation and world. I’ve been inspired by his effort to promote a forward-looking, progressive, and smart agenda that emphasized the best in the human condition. I love his elegance, rhetoric, humor, thinking, judgment, and policy emphasis. I loved his effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to a two-state solution. I respect his diplomatic success in disarming Iran of its nuclear weapons and capability without ever firing a shot. I’m encouraged by his success internationally in bringing about the Paris climate accord. I loved that he did as no President before him was able to do, get passed the Affordable Care Act, and I looked forward to Hillary and a democratic Senate improving upon it. I respect his dignity under constant assault by racists who just could not countenance a black man in the Oval Office. I love Hillary’s toughness and faith-based politics despite so much misogyny that undermined her campaign. (Note: I know that many people opposed Obama and Clinton for legitimate reasons other than racism and misogyny)

The two of them gave me hope that the battle to build a more just and compassionate society was on the right track.

I’m beginning to find my bearings again, thankfully, since November 8. Jon Stewart was right in an interview after the election when he remarked that this country is no different today than it was before the election. The same people – good, bad and ugly – make up the patches of the American quilt just as they did before.

We who are/were demoralized, therefore, are not starting from zero. Much has been done already to improve America and much has still to be done. I hope against hope that Trump will surprise everyone, but I’m not putting money on it. I hope as well that members of his own party stand against him and others when they propose policies that are destructive.

Instead, I believe that its time for everyone to become more engaged in social justice advocacy work than we ever have been before in order to prevent a deterioration in our democracy and our compassionate society.

We have to align with just causes and just organizations, with local, state and federal officials who share our vision and democratic pluralist values.

We Jews have to act as Jews and be ready to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable and the shrinking middle class, and to stand united against efforts to eviscerate the social safety net.

We have to push hard on behalf of the welfare of the 42 million food insecure Americans who have no idea when or from where their next meal will come.

We have to support women’s rights to equal pay for equal work, and their right to choose, as well as the equal marriage rights of the LGBTQ community.

We have to stand up for the environment, for science, for technological advance, for higher education for everyone regardless of their ability to pay, for critical thinking, and for fact-based truth.

We have to protect immigrants, peoples of color, and strangers, and to challenge those who claim that any human being is “illegal.”

The pendulum swings both ways and we can’t forget the ancient words of the Biblical prophet that called for justice, compassion and humility before God.

We have to remember Dr. King’s words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

That is the message of hope. The optimist in me dies hard. I hope that it dies hard in you too!

42.2 million Americans – 13.1 million children – 5.7 million seniors today struggle with hunger

I am an unabashed supporter of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and have been since it began thirty years ago, a brainchild of the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis and the late liberal activist Leonard Fein. Their mission then was simple, but as has been proven, very difficult to fulfill – namely, to engage the American Jewish community in helping to alleviate hunger in the United States.

Now, MAZON has created a powerful experience that over the next year will travel to every major city in America and end up parked near the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. as a prod to Congress to do everything possible to alleviate hunger in the wealthiest nation in the world.

MAZON presents “This Is Hunger Experience,” a high-impact, experiential installation on wheels—literally, it’s a big rig. When the 53-foot-long double expandable trailer is parked and open on both sides, it provides nearly 1,000 square feet of interior space to take participants on a two-part journey: to understand the stark reality of hunger in America and to take action to end hunger once and for all.

Part One: Illuminate—Participants enter the truck and are invited to sit at a communal table to meet, virtually, real people struggling with hunger. Portraits are projected at each end of the table, one by one, as they share their stories in their own words and in their own voices.

Part Two: Advocate—At the conclusion of Part One: Illuminate, participants will be invited to engage in activities and experiences that will deepen their awareness about the complexities of being hungry and invite them to join MAZON in educating the rest of our nation and advocating for change.

This interactive experience on wheels will illuminate the very real and preventable existence of hunger in America, encourage us to raise our voices on behalf of the 42.2 million Americans who struggle with hunger every day, and ignite our community’s commitment to end hunger once and for all. This truck’s first stop is in Los Angeles and is currently parked at Temple Israel of Hollywood. (For tours and reservations, see links below).

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger has a long tradition of engaging the American Jewish community as well as anti-hunger organizations to become catalysts for the change we need to end hunger in America. We know all too well that there are persistent myths about hunger in America, about who is hungry and why. Until our nation recognizes the profound prevalence of hunger here at home, we will never be able to rally the political will required to end it.

That’s why MAZON is launching the public tour of This Is Hunger, a powerful community engagement program that will encourage individuals to embark on a journey—one that challenges their beliefs about who in America struggles with hunger and why, and empower them to take action.

See –  http://thisishunger.org/host

To reserve tickets: http://bit.ly/2ebJGgO

The Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1806330589623327/

The MAZON video: https://vimeo.com/187432624

Note: The above text was borrowed from MAZON’s materials.

A Note to My Grandchildren

Rabbi Stanley Davids is a dear friend and grandfather of eight. He posted a letter that he wrote to his grandchildren following the election of Trump on the Reform Rabbi List-Serve this past week that I want to share with you in its entirety.

Stan is a thoughtful, kind, good-humored (most of the time) and passionate activist for all things good, a retired congregational rabbi and a past President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (he is the one who persuaded me to follow him as Chair of ARZA).

Stan’s words are worth sharing with your children and grandchildren. I post them here with his permission.

November 10, 2016

Dear Olivia, Joshua, Gabriel, Zeke, Mya, Cole, Beth and Hannah,

“Watch out for the baobabs.” (The Little Prince)

I waited several days after Donald Trump won the presidency before I could properly share my thoughts with you. I am that confused and I am that upset.

You know how hard I worked to elect Hillary Clinton. I believed in her then. I believe in her now. And I deeply, profoundly, am opposed to Donald Trump – his values, his behavior, his plans.

I apologize to you for having failed to defend you and your future against the hateful things that President-Elect Trump represents. I wanted so much to protect that future, to shield you from intense prejudice, racial hatred, hatred of minorities, hatred of LGBT folks, hatred of the not physically able. But I failed. I have always been personally active in political matters here and in Israel and in the former USSR. I stood up for African-Americans, women, LGBT, Soviet Jews and civil and religious rights in Israel. Sometimes the cause for which I fought was successful. Sometimes – not so much. But I never stopped trying.

This is a great country. Several of you will be casting your first presidential ballots in four years. But by then I fear that a newly reconstituted Supreme Court will have made some horrific decisions and that a Congress controlled by ultra-conservatives may have turned our great Ship of State in dangerous directions.

I failed. So the battle now must be yours. Please don’t give up on politics. Don’t feel overwhelmed. And don’t be indifferent. Read, study, talk – and become involved. Don’t leave it to others to protect your world – they just might not do it. Experience frustration, the pain of loss, and the discomfort of sometimes disagreeing even with those you highly respect. But remember that politics always responds to the passionate, informed few. Be among them.

Form coalitions. Reach beyond your close circle of friends. Hear the concerns of others. Ask them to hear yours. Be ready to walk away if they refuse. Don’t let them change you. Join groups that express and endorse your values. Turn them into instruments of your vision. And make certain that you are clear as to your own values. Values matter. Ideas matter. No one, no one, can expect to be granted the right to tend his or her garden and to expect the world to just let them alone. It won’t happen. You can’t hide from the cancer of prejudice and hatred. If you allow it, it will find you.

You are Jews. You are all well educated in Jewish tradition. Acquire the values language of our tradition and let that values language inspire you and give you unbreakable hope.

So long as I am able, I will continue fighting for Tikkun Olam. You are already becoming old enough to be my partners, and I embrace that privilege. Together we will remain intolerant of evil. Together we can fight for a world in which The Other presents to us a vision of God. There is no permanent victory in this struggle, but there is also no permanent defeat.

And about that baobab, the Little Prince counsels that we must pull up all of the baobabs as soon as they appear. Never delay. If we delay even a little bit, the planet will rapidly become infested with them and they will sink in their roots and rip the planet apart.

“Watch out for the baobabs.”

I love you.
Saba

ARZA statement to President-Elect Trump about Steve Bannon and 2-State solution

 

ARZA joins Reform Movement Partners in Deep Concern about Steve Bannon and Calls upon President-elect Trump to Support a Two-State Solution

The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) is alarmed at the appointment of Steve Bannon as an advisor and strategist to President-elect Trump. Mr. Bannon led the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists, a true affront to our open, pluralistic society.

As the Zionist organization representing the Reform Movement’s 1.5 million American Jews, we rarely engage in American politics, yet this situation demands our voice:

The strong America-Israel relationship is of the utmost importance to us, and we express our deep concern that President-elect Trump may set aside the policy of every previous American President who supported a two states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We are deeply concerned that since the election of Donald Trump, several Israeli ministers in the Knesset have openly considered this as an opportunity to forgo the establishment of a Palestinian State. Evidence of this trend can be seen not only in the public discourse of various ministers but also in their actions. A bill to retroactively legalize illegal settlements just passed its first Knesset reading today.

We worry that President-elect Trump will support those forces within Israel that seek a “one-state solution” which would destroy a Jewish and democratic Israel.  It is both our fervent hope and expectation that Mr. Trump will quickly and definitively express his administration’s full support for a two-state solution and continue efforts to ensure a safe, secure Jewish State of Israel living in peace with a neighboring Palestinian State.

 

Temple Israel Calls on all to Take Action

Take Action – Click here to join with Reform Jews across the country letting President-Elect Trump know that we reject the appointment of Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.  Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House. It is essential that President-Elect Trump assemble a leadership team that reflects his stated aspiration

Turning Mourning into Meaning in the Post-Election Period

The  following is a sermon I delivered to my congregation this past Friday night, November 11, 2016, after the shock of the Trump electoral victory.

The impact of this now concluded presidential campaign and the election results have shocked not only this country but the world. One either has been lifted up upon wings of eagles or plunged into despair like Jonah in the belly of the great fish.

I don’t presume to know the hearts and minds of every member of our community. I know only my own mind and heart, and it’s from there that I speak to you tonight.

I hope my words will reflect the thoughts of many, and if they do – good! If not, it can’t be helped.

My challenge this week, like yours, has been to cope with an election result that has caused me deep distress and anxiety, and then to find a way to convert my mourning into meaning.

This election, unfortunately, has shined a light into the darkest recesses of the American psyche and revealed how divided is our nation. It should be clear to everyone that we Americans live in two worlds with two understandings about what it means to be an American and about the meaning of morality.

For those who are happy with the results, I congratulate you. As I suspect, however, this is not the case for far more of us in this congregational community. Like many of you, I’m bereft and left with a sickening feeling of disgust and fear about our nation’s future.

I worry that every advance the Obama Administration made these past eight years will be thwarted as promised by the President-elect, that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, that twenty million people will lose their health insurance, that those with pre-existing conditions will be uninsurable, that a fundamentalist Supreme Court will be solidified for the next generation and overrule Roe V Wade and protect Citizens United, that the United States will dismantle its trade agreements, cause instability in the international markets and in our economy, that we’ll withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and set back all efforts to contain the emission of fossil fuels that cause global warming, that the NATO alliance will be weakened at best and unravel at worst, that Russia’s influence will expand, that many more innocent Syrians will die in indiscriminate American bombing of ISIS, that the US will back away from the Iran agreement and enable Iran to march quickly toward full nuclear capability and threaten Israel, that Muslims will be banned from America, that American citizens of Middle East origins and other people of color will become suspect and cower in fear, that LGBTQ rights will be set back in the courts, that sexual assault upon women will be tolerated, and that eleven million undocumented immigrants will be deported.

All these actions were promised by Donald Trump in his campaign and, if he is like all past Presidents, he will succeed in implementing seventy percent of his campaign promises.

The extremist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic, nativist, authoritarian, and demagogic bigotry that he has unleashed this year has been shocking, disheartening, frightening, and immoral.

That Trump received sixty million votes is beyond my ability to comprehend. That being said, I know that many who voted for him are good and decent people, but I also can’t help but conclude that their morality has been deeply compromised. We have to accept this fact and then try and understand if we are able, what were their reasons and motivations so we can be efficacious in helping to bring our country together in common cause and purpose.

I fear that Trump’s policies will fundamentally transform the heart and soul of this country, that we will no longer be regarded around the world as the shining city on the hill and the last refuge for the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

And so – what do we do?

First, it’s important that we take the time to give voice to the anguish we feel. Those who need to grieve must do so. In this I’m heartened by Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom when he said:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – always.”

Gandhi was probably right, but tyrants never fall voluntarily. They fall only when they encounter stronger more persistent forces of good.

And so, when we conclude our grieving, I suggest we do the following at the very least – that we try and understand those who voted for Trump beyond the bigotry, what are their narratives and aspirations? What are their needs, passions, and dreams, anger, and resentments? What did their candidate embody and how did Hillary Clinton and the Democrats fail them? Though Hillary won the majority of the popular vote and should be president, in my opinion, she did not fail in any significant way in drawing the majority of the voting public to her and her vision – just in certain key states.

Nevertheless, if you feel as I do that her vision is better for Americans and the world, then we need to expose the harm that Trump’s initiatives champion and what they will do to the American people. We need to fight to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care, to good education, to protection from climate change, to good, sustaining and meaningful jobs, to equal pay for equal work, to freedom from sexual assault and harassment, to safety in their communities, to freedom from prejudice, bigotry and bias, and to a fair shot at the American dream.

We have to frame the conversation going forward in ways that the American people will understand what is really at stake, to speak positively about real solutions, with detailed policy proposals that are workable and that can gain bipartisan support. This kind of communication and education about the issues includes political lobbying on their behalf, using the media strategically so that as many Americans are reached as possible, and focusing specifically on the deleterious impact that Trump’s policies and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will have on people’s lives.

We cannot do this alone. We have to organize with other groups in coalitions of decency and be certain that our collective voices are heard on issue after issue.

There are already so many advocacy organizations working that can use our individual and collective help. Google broad themes and you will find them such as civil liberties (ACLU), women’s rights and advocacy organizations (National Organization Of Women – NOW), the environment (Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Sierra Club), peoples of color advocacy groups, LGBTQ rights and anti-bullying support groups, criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty, getting money out of politics, health care advocacy, hunger and food insecurity (MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger), and many others.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. (RAC) addresses virtually every social justice issue of concern to the American Reform Jewish movement (see – http://www.rac.org).

I wrote this week to our synagogue members’ Congressional representatives and offered not only my own personal support for them but our congregation’s support for all efforts to dissuade Congress from enacting legislation that would set back a fairer, safer and more just America. I encouraged them to reach across the aisle to moderate, practically-minded members of the Republican Party and find ways to join together and advocate initiatives that can do some good, save the environment, raise the minimum wage, secure Medicare and Social Security, and help ordinary people.

As Jews, we have a special moral duty, inspired by the ancient Biblical prophets’ concern for justice, compassion, peace, and the rights of the vulnerable, to dig deeply into our tradition’s wisdom for insight, courage, and strength, while keeping our hearts open, our minds clear and our moral principles strong.

We Jews and all peoples of faith and moral purpose need to put one foot in front of the other and not get lost, to perform deeds of loving-kindness constantly, to pursue justice and peace unrelentingly, to be agents of hope always, and to be an “or la-goyim – a light unto the nations.”

The Pirke Avot (2:6) teaches – “B’ma-kom sh’ein a-na-shim, tish’ta-del li-hi-yot ish – In a place where there are no human beings, strive always to be a mensch!”

That must be our purpose, our response, our cure, and our hope!

Leonard Cohen (z’l), who died this week, often parted company from his Jewish friends saying, “Chazak chazak v’nit’cha-zek – Be strong, be strong and together we will strengthen one another.”

I wish that for all of us now.

 

Read – “How America got it so wrong – Journalists and politicians blew off the warning signs of a Trump presidency – now, we all must pay the price” – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine – http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/president-trump-how-america-got-it-so-wrong-w449783

An invitation in the wake of this election

Dear Congregants and Friends:

We know what he has said. We know what he has done. We have seen evidence of his low-brow tastes, his moral failures and his unethical behavior; but we do not yet know what he will do as President.

He has taken opposite positions on the same issues. He has behaved as a cheat, a misogynist, a racist, and a bigot. He has stoked extremism and anti-Semitism. He plays badly in the sandbox and thinks nothing of kicking sand in the face of others. He shows little or no empathy. He demonstrates a self-centeredness that none of us would permit in our own children.

He lacks dignity and grace, and his pronouncements about matters domestic and foreign have worried experts on both sides of the aisle as well as past presidents from both political parties, past presidential candidates, and people far more learned and experienced than him in matters of government, policy and international relations.

He is a climate change denier, a skeptic of science, and a creator of his own facts.

But – he will now be our President, as difficult as that is to imagine for so many of us. The American people have spoken and voted, though our country is as polarized as at any time in my life time, and it is our duty as citizens to accept the decision of the majority of the American people.

Will he make America and the world unsafe or safe? With the nuclear codes in hand, will he be reckless or cautious? What will he do to undermine or support Israel’s security and our people’s place in the Middle East? Will he cause the reversal of Roe v Wade, cancel the Affordable Care Act and strip health insurance from twenty million people who have benefited while casting those of us with pre-existing conditions into the wilderness with no health insurance.

All these questions, and so many more, have yet to be answered. We do not know who he will appoint to his cabinet, or who his advisors will be. We are, at this point, groping in the dark about virtually everything. Yes, we have a strong constitutional system of government with many checks and balances – but will they hold now that there is only political party that controls all aspects of the federal government?

Like most of you, I would imagine, I am fearful about more than I can say.

What do we do?

As Jews we traditionally have turned to each other and recommitted ourselves to one another in times of uncertainty and stress. We have sought our people’s inner strength and our ancient wisdom, and we have taken faith in our capacity to adapt to whatever challenges we encounter, and thereby thrived as a people.

This is a time to turn to all peoples of faith and decency, and link our arms and hearts with theirs.

It’s a time for us Americans to remember what it is that really makes America great – not to fall victim to hostile and defensive rhetoric and bromides that pit us against each other – but to affirm the love that is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions.

This is the time to remember that we are each other’s brothers and sisters, that we have to remain openhearted and steadfast in our principles, that it is our duty to continue to perform acts of tzedakah (justice) and hesed (loving-kindness) no matter what.

We are an empathetic and compassionate people. Since the time of the Exodus from Egypt we Jews have known the heart of the stranger and we have identified with the marginalized and unsupported. We know that they are us and we are them, and we all need each other.

We Jews are something else as well – we are a sanctifying people who have striven always to bring God’s light into the world, to act as healers and repairers of all that which is wrong and unjust and cruel.

We Jews are always stronger in community than we are  alone. I therefore invite you, young and old, children and the aged, Jew and non-Jew, to come to synagogue this Friday evening and join in celebrating Shabbat together.

Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Israel of Hollywood will begin at 6:30 pm. Do arrive a bit earlier so we can greet one another. We will sing together, pray and reflect together, and take joy in each other. I will share additional thoughts and reflections.

Speaking very personally – I need you, our community, as do my colleagues Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, Rabbi Jocee Hudson, our Cantorial Soloist Shelly Fox, and our accompanist Michael Alfera. Please come.

Chazak v’eimatz – May we be strong together and thereby strengthen one another.

With love,

Rabbi John Rosove