This is the first time that all the organizations of the American Reform Jewish movement have ever weighed in on a nomination by a President of the United States. However, we have done so because David Friedman’s qualifications, lack of diplomatic experience, erratic temperament, outrageous rhetoric and attacks on large sections of the American Jewish community, and his policy positions vis a vis Israel are not in the best interests of the American-Israel relationship and do not represent our Reform Jewish values in relationship to the democratic and Jewish State of Israel.
As the national Chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), on behalf of ARZA’s President Rabbi Josh Weinberg, and with the unanimous support of the national ARZA Officers and Board, I express my own gratitude that our movement of 1.5 million American Reform Jews has made such a clear and strong statement.
Please read the attached statement and note the expansive support of our movement’s national leadership.
Why is President Donald Trump so dangerous to our democracy and the world? Because he lies, insists upon the truth of his lies, doubles down on them, and then mercilessly demeans and attacks his critics.
There is a method to what Trump does. Here are some of the specifics that are necessary for the achievement of his ends:
- He personally attacks his opponents by labeling them with demeaning name-calling, thereby belittling them and discrediting them;
- He mocks anyone who shows a disability or publicly displays emotion that he regards as a sign of weakness in order to prop himself up and establish himself as the big winner and therefore the embodiment of power and truth;
- He dismisses provable facts when they do not conform to his end-game agenda;
- He attacks the press, threatens journalists and networks, and denies them access to the White House;
- He fires staff that disagree with him and prohibits dissent by government officials;
- He threatens cities and universities by withdrawing financial aid when they challenge him;
- He challenges the last election as fraudulent so he can claim to have won the popular vote as well as the electoral college;
- He shuts down the White House switchboard to protect itself against negative public opinion.
Taken together these things (which are not exhaustive) are reminiscent of the methods described in Mein Kampf to subjugate a population to the power and will of the leader. As was the case in the 1930s in Nazi Germany, everything for Trump depends upon establishing the Big Lie as truth.
Robert Reich posted on his Facebook page ten specific steps Trump has used from the beginning of his campaign to promote the Big Lie as a means of establishing himself as the Savior of the nation:
Step 1: Trump lies.
Step 2: Experts contradict him, saying his claim is baseless and false. The media report that the claim is false.
Step 3: Trump blasts the experts and condemns the media for being “dishonest.”
Step 4: Trump repeats the lie in tweets and speeches. He asserts that “many people” say he’s right.
Step 5: The mainstream media start to describe the lie as a “disputed fact.”
Step 6: Trump repeats the lie in tweets, interviews, and speeches. His surrogates repeat it on Fox News and in the right-wing blogosphere.
Step 7: The mainstream media begin to describe Trump’s lie as a “controversy.”
Step 8: Polls show a growing number of Americans (including most Republicans) believe Trump’s lie to be true.
Step 9: The media start describing Trump’s lie as “a claim that reflects a partisan divide in America,” and is “found to be true by many.”
Step 10: The public is confused and disoriented about what the facts are. Trump wins.
What ought we to do in response?
- Call/email your congressional representatives protesting Trump’s appointments and actions when they are based on the Big Lie or when they run counter to his campaign promises;
- Organize for the mid-term elections to take back the House and the Senate;
- Run for political office yourself and/or encourage able people you know to do so especially against current office-holders and candidates who support Trump’s demagoguery and/or who have failed to speak out against his lies and policies;
- Actively support progressive causes (e.g. climate change, public education, affordable college education, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, universal health care, scientific research, economic justice, immigration reform, diplomacy in international affairs, etc. etc);
- Organize demonstrations against Trump wherever and whenever he appears, at the White House and at his retreats to get under his skin;
- Educate your children and grandchildren about American democracy, our democratic institutions, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the built-in checks and balances of the three branches of our government;
- Remember that critical thinking is our nation’s greatest protection against Trump’s and his surrogates’ demagoguery and distortions of the truth;
- Challenge all outrageous and demeaning statements Trump makes;
- Support the media that call his lies what they are – lies – and who the Trump administration criticizes for reporting and/or speaking the truth;
- Defend everyone Trump attacks regardless of whether you agree with the speaker’s views.
Finally – because so much is being thrown up by the Trump administration every day, it is only human to want to stop listening to the news and, out of a sense of disgust and powerlessness, to turn away and disengage. That, however, is the opposite of what we ought to be doing. Deferring to Trump is exactly what dictators want from their subjects. Denial of what is happening in the body politic and moral character of our nation is not an option; neither is despair.
We Jews and we Americans are people of hope, and hope comes from engagement and the belief that we can effect change and heal the world of its pain and imperfections.
Chazak v’ematz – Be strong and courageous!
Note: I speak only for myself and do not claim to represent the views of my congregation or any other Jewish organization.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU IF YOU MARCHED ON JANUARY 21
This is a direct request from her Chief of Staff:
FEINSTEIN WANTS 2-4 SENTENCES FROM MARCHERS EXPLAINING WHY YOU MARCHED AND WHAT IT MEANT TO YOU.
She will incorporate messages AND note the NUMBER of emails she receives in her opening statement at the Sessions hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Please send emails with the subject line WHY I MARCHED to:
It has been a year since the Israeli government agreed to establish an egalitarian prayer space in Jerusalem’s Southern Kotel Plaza that would be independent of the strict ultra-Orthodox rabbinate and the Ultra-Orthodox Administrator of the Western Wall. The government agreement called for the construction of an attractive prayer space equivalent in size to the traditional prayer space and visible from the entrance of the plaza. The prayer space would be overseen by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Women of the Wall.
It is a year later and nothing has happened.
When I was in Jerusalem in October for meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, the 120 of us representing world Jewry met in the Knesset with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He asked us to be patient and explained that he needed more time to work with his coalition partners to implement the agreement.
Jewish Agency Director Natan Sharansky, who the Prime Minister had asked three years earlier to meet with all the interested parties to find a consensus agreement, told us minutes before the Prime Minister came into the Chagall Lobby that the Prime Minister was indeed committed to doing everything he could to implement this agreement, except one thing – Netanyahu would not sacrifice his government or his position as Prime Minister – and that of course, is the rub!
Once the agreement was signed in January 2016 that included the Ultra-Orthodox Administrator of the Wall, the ultra-Orthodox political parties in the government rose up in defiance and threatened to bring down the government should the agreement move forward and be implemented. Rather than take that risk and form a new government without the Ultra-Orthodox, Mr. Netanyahu seems to have taken the position that the preservation of his government and his position as Prime Minister are more important than the facilitation of an agreement that would preserve the unity of the Jewish people and welcome to the holiest site in Judaism every Jew who wishes to pray according to his or her Jewish custom.
In the Jewish Forward (“The Wall That’s Growing Between Us,” January 27, 2017), Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner reviews the history of this effort. She says: “So now, a year after nothing, a time for pleading an exhortation may be over.”
Eisner quotes Elazar Stern, a member of the Knesset from the centrist Yesh Atid party and a former major general in the Israeli Defense Forces, that whenever he meets leaders from the Diaspora “I tell them they must insist that these issues be dealt with immediately. And until that happens, I say to them, ‘You need to stop inviting them [i.e.Israeli government leaders including, I presume, Prime Minister Netanyahu] as guests of honor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Jewish Federation conferences. Even if you really need them — and I know you need them — hold back for just two years. It won’t take longer than that for them to see that they need you even more than you need them.”
Stern throws down a gauntlet to world Jewry, and I wonder whether we’ll pick it up. Stay tuned!
“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (from the Great Colossus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor)
We are fast becoming a nation I don’t recognize. President Trump’s Friday Executive Order on immigration is an attack on the founding principles of our country while not doing what Trump says it is meant to do – keep us safer.
Since 9/11, no refugees from the targeted countries in this order have been involved in fatal terrorist attacks in the United States.
Trump’s Order bars entry into the United States of all Syrian refugees, targets Muslim-majority countries (except those countries where it seems that Trump has business interests – e.g. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and The United Arab Emirates) and threatens the integrity of families who want nothing more than to be together in America, work, pay taxes, and become citizens.
Thankfully, US District Judge Ann Donnelly yesterday blocked a part of Trump’s executive order brought by the ACLU on behalf of two detained Iraqi immigrants at New York’s JFK airport as unconstitutional saying: “The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioner and other similarly situated violates their due process and equal protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”
I want to know this – Where is the Republican party leadership in Congress on this issue? Why have they overwhelmingly lined up behind Trump — or a stayed quiet?
Other than (to date) Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA), Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), no Republican has broken ranks and called Trump out to condemn this executive order. The five Republicans above will go down in history as having done the right thing – and I commend them all!
I am also waiting for Democrats in the House and Senate to speak out.
Attacking foreigners is easy. Bullies do it because foreigners are weak and vulnerable. They have no one representing their interests. They are alone and often traumatized. The may not speak the language or understand the laws and culture of the country in which they find themselves.
Of all the commandments in the Hebrew Bible, the mitzvah of welcoming the stranger is among the most important. The word ger (stranger or alien) appears 92 times in the Tanakh.
Why? Because we Jews understand what it means to be strangers from Egypt to Spain to medieval Europe to Germany to the USSR and to many Middle Eastern countries.
We Jews know the heart of the stranger.
We Jews know what it’s like to be hunted and persecuted.
We Jews know what it’s like to be targeted because of our religion and background.
We Jews know what fear means and what it feels like to be hated.
Jewish tradition is as clear about our obligations to strangers as it is about any other ethical demand:
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…” (Exodus 22:21-22)
“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10: 19)
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“Thus says God: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the stranger, …” (Jeremiah 22:3)
“Adonai enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love the stranger because you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
“Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other!” (Zechariah 7:10)
“God watches over strangers…” (Psalm 146:9)
“You have brought your judgment days near and have come to your years of punishment [because] father and mother are treated with contempt, and the stranger is exploited within you.” (Ezekiel 22:4, 7)
“’I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against … those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the stranger. They do not fear Me,’ says Adonai.” (Malachi 3:5)
The American Reform movement is now organizing on the local, state and national level in support of vulnerable communities targeted by the Trump Administration and the Republican majority Congress.
Below is a letter sent this past week explaining what we as individuals and as members of synagogues can do to get engaged and become activists :
“The Reform Jewish movement of America is organizing to fight the mistreatment of vulnerable parts of the population. Reform congregations and communities across California are coming together as part of Reform CA, a project of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, to mobilize vocal support for positive state and local policies that advance our Jewish values—and vocal opposition to policies that target the vulnerable populations in our communities.
This rapid response system begins today.
We are asking you to get your Reform congregation or community to contact your U.S. Representatives, urging them to publicly oppose any executive order that threatens the rights of refugees and immigrants, including cutting off federal funding from sanctuary cities.
If you have not already done so, we urge your congregation or community to sign a Brit Olam (google “Brit Olam”), a covenant to act together to defend vulnerable communities against attack: people of color, the LGBTQ community, those with tenuous access to healthcare and reproductive choice, immigrants and refugees, Muslims and other religious minorities, and other victims of bigotry.”
See “Reform Movement Denounces President Trump’s Executive Order Barring Entry from Several Muslim-Majority Countries” http://www.rac.org/reform-movement-denounces-president-trumps-executive-order-barring-entry-several-muslim-majority
My community at Temple Israel of Hollywood had a poster writing party before Shabbat for the March in LA. Thanks to Jennifer Levin and dozens of others, young and old, who are “praying with their feet” this Shabbat ( per Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who explained what he did in the march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965)
Blacks, whites, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Christians,
LGBTQs, women, men, children
are what make America great!
There is no planet B
Love, not hate, makes America great
Left or Right — we can all see Wrong
Kind is the new cool
Love has no border control
Be Brave – Choose Love
Fight like a girl
Fake your tan not your news
Make America Kind again
Hear me roar!
One race: human
Let’s teach our kids NOT to have a favorite color
Hey grownups: your silence is your consent
Okay Ladies, let’s get in formation –
My voice counts!
My body My choice
Yes, we can.
Si, Se Puede!
Dumbledore wouldn’t let this happen
I am so angry I made a sign
I know signs.
I make the best signs.
So you prefer Unplanned Parenthood?
Immigrants welcome! Racists go home!
We’ll paint a rainbow over whitewashed America
Save the mermaids, please keep our oceans clean
This is what a feminist looks like
Build kindness not walls
I am not powerless
Did I object to your marriage?
The planet does not get a recount
“I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
but down here at the bottom,
we too should have rights!” Dr. Seuss
Stay off of my Mom’s vagina!
No-one is free when some are oppressed
Kids against bulls**t
A woman’s place is in the revolution
Make America think again
Uh, oh – Now you’ve pissed off Grandma
I will not learn your hate
To all the adults out there – we are counting on you
A woman’s place is in the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office
This is the last straw
Love is gay. Love is straight. Love is lesbian. Love is bisexual. Love is transgender.
I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.
I am changing the things I cannot accept.
If I make my uterus a corporation, will you stop regulating it?
Feminism, back by popular Demand
I didn’t come from your rib, you came from my vagina!
Things money can’t buy:
Integrity, character, common sense, manners, love, kindness, class
“Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter!” MLK
It’s a country, not a corporation
If God hates gays, why are we so cute?!
I’m really not happy about this
When someone tells you they got rich through hard work, ask them, “Whose”?
No woman can call herself free if she does not own and control her own body
Hell hath no fury like 157 million women scorned
When all the trees are cut
When all the animals are dead
When all the waters are poisoned
When all the air is unsafe to breathe
Only then will you discover…
YOU CANNOT EAT MONEY
1968 is calling, don’t answer
Protest is patriotic
We were served a LEMON
But we’ll make LEMONADE
Nasty and Loud
Left – Right – How about forward?
Mother Earth hasn’t shown you nasty yet
Build a wall around Hate, Oppression, Violence, Inequality, Bigotry, Fear
It’s global warming, stupid!
If you don’t like gay marriage, blame straight people.
They’re the ones who keep having Gay babies!
You know things are messed up when the white guys start marching
Our Voices together cannot be Silenced
Thanks Trump –
You turned me into an activist
Speak your mind or someone will speak it for you
We will not be voted into the closet
Not a socialist, not an elite, not an anarchist, not a left-wing nut
Just a parent here for a better world for my kids!
And this is just the first day of the next four years
Power to the peaceful
To all the little girls watching right now:
Never doubt that you are valuable & powerful & deserving of every chance in the world
Your election was a hate crime!
Yes, I am a feminist. No, I don’t hate men.
This kitty grabs back
“If you really think the environment is less important than the economy,
try holding your breath while you count your money.”
If you cut off my reproductive choice… Can I cut off yours?
Does conversion therapy work for bigots?
Have your wall, but my generation will tear it down
It’s easier to buy a gun than my education
Abortion is health care
Don’t trust me with a choice, but with a child
“Thou shalt not mess with women’s reproductive rights” Fallopian 4:28
Make empathy great again
“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil,
but by those who watch them without doing anything.” Albert Einstein
Note: SAVE FOR FUTURE MARCHES
Given the contentious nature of public debate in this election year and in light of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th President, my own synagogue and the American Reform Jewish movement have been challenged about the nature of our speech and activism.
What ought we to be saying and when should we be saying it? Should we as a synagogue community speak collectively about the great challenges confronting our nation in the area of health care, economic justice, criminal justice reform, the poor, women’s and LGBTQ rights, racism, immigration, religious minorities, civil rights, climate change, war, and peace?
Or should we refrain, as some have argued in my own community, and concentrate purely upon “spiritual,” religious and ritual matters? What, if any, limitations should rabbis and synagogue communities impose upon themselves?
Before I offer the principles that have guided me over many years, it is important to understand what we mean by “politics.” Here is a good operative definition from Wikipedia:
“Politics (from Greek πολιτικός, “of, for, or relating to citizens”), is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. It also refers to behavior within civil governments. … It consists of “social relations involving authority or power” and refers to the regulation of public affairs within a political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.”
The fundamental question before us is this: Should rabbis and synagogue communities be “political” in the sense of this definition?
I believe we should, and that we have an obligation to speak and act according to the above meaning.
There ought to be, of course, limitations.
First: When we speak our words ought to be based upon Jewish religious, ethical and moral principles, and our goals ought to promote justice, equality, compassion, humility, decency, freedom, and peace not only for Jews but for all people.
Second: We need to remember that we Jews hold multiple visions and positions on the myriad issues that face our community and society. Rav Shmuel (3rd century C.E. Babylonia) said “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim – These and those are the words of the living God” meaning that there are many authentic Jewish values even when they conflict with each other.
The American Jewish community holds no unanimous political point of view, though since WWII between 60% and 90% of the American Jewish community has supported moderate and liberal policies and candidates for political office locally, at the state and national levels. We are by and large a liberal community, but there is a substantial conservative minority among us as well.
The Reform movement (represented by the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., the social justice arm of the Union for Reform Judaism) has for decades consistently taken moral, ethical, and religious positions on public policy issues that come before our government and in our society as a whole, though the RAC does not endorse candidates nor take positions on nominees for high government positions unless specifically determined conditions are met. The RAC’s positions on policies are taken based on the Reform movement’s understanding of the Jewish mission “L’aken ha-olam b’malchut Shaddai – To restore the world in the image of the dominion of God,” which means that we are called upon to adhere to high ethical standards of justice, compassion, and peace.
The following guide me whenever I speak and write:
1. I do not publicly endorse candidates for high political office and have never done so in my 38 years as a congregational rabbi, except once – this year when it was clear to me that statements, tweets, and policy positions of the Republican candidate for President have proven to be contrary to fundamental liberal Jewish ethical principles;
2. When I offer divrei Torah, sermons, blog and Facebook posts, I do so always from the perspective of what I believe are Jewish moral, ethical and religious principles. Necessarily, there are times when my statements are indeed “political” but they are not “partisan,” and that is a big difference;
3. We as individuals or as a community ought never claim to possess the absolute Truth about anything. There are many truths that often conflict with one another. Respect for opposing views is a fundamental Jewish value and the synagogue ought to be a place where honest civil and respectful debate can always occur;
4. When I speak and write in the media, I have an obligation to clearly state that I am speaking as an individual and not on behalf of our synagogue community or any other Jewish organization.
The Mishnah (2nd century CE) teaches that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam – the study of Torah leads to all the other mitzvot.” (Talmud, Shabbat 127a) The Talmud emphasizes as well that action must proceed from learning.
Plato warned that passivity and withdrawal from the political realm carry terrible risks: “The penalty that good [people] pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by [people] worse than themselves.”
Rabbi Joachim Prinz, the President of the American Jewish Congress, who spoke in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 963 immediately before Dr. Martin Luther King delivered this “I have a dream speech, said:
“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not ‘the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.
America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. … It must speak up and act, from the President down to the humblest of us, … for the sake of the … idea and the aspiration of America itself.”
Last week at Temple Israel, Dr. Susannah Heschel, the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, told my community that her father believed that the civil rights movement of the 1960s (of which he was an active and intimate partner with Dr. King), enabled the American Jewish community to affirm and reclaim its moral voice.
Perhaps this new administration and government offers the liberal American Jewish community yet again an opportunity to make our voices heard
Rabbi Prinz ended his speech at the Lincoln memorial that day by saying:
“The time, I believe, has come to work together – for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together, to work together that [pledge of allegiance said every morning by children in their schools] from Maine to California, from North to South, may become a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.”
In a landmark High Court decision Wednesday, the State of Israel was given 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall.
A year ago the Israeli government coalition made an agreement with a wide range of Jews from around the world that included the Reform and Conservative movements, the North American Jewish Federations, and the Women of the Wall to create an egalitarian prayer space in the Southern Kotel Plaza under Robinson’s Arch that is equal in size and in access to the Northern Kotel Plaza that would be overseen by non-Orthodox Jewry and not the ultra-Orthodox.
This was a landmark decision that affirmed Israel as the great democracy that it is and that Jews around the world ought to have the right and freedom to pray according to their custom at the holiest site in Judaism.
The agreement was led by Prime Minister Netanyahu who had appointed Natan Sharansky, the Director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to forge a consensus agreement that included the ultra-Orthodox administrator of the Wall and the non-Orthodox liberal streams of Judaism.
It took 3 years to reach a compromise agreement, and once that was done, the ultra-Orthodox members of the Israeli government dug in their heels and aggressively sought to undermine it that would essentially disenfranchise 80% of world Jewry that is non-Orthodox. These Orthodox politicians backed by their Haredi rabbis threatened to bring down Netanyahu’s government if the agreement was implemented.
At last – the Israeli High Court has ruled that egalitarian prayer and the rights of women to read Torah at the Kotel ought to be their democratic right. These reactionary forces have been given 30 days to make their case.
This is a limited victory and not the end of the struggle – stay tuned.