It is with great trepidation that I share my thoughts with you this morning. Over the years I have been involved in protesting policies and/or advocating for change. In various presidential administrations I participated in the rally to free Soviet Jewry during President George H W Bush’s presidency; I led a trip to Israel to support Israel during the 2nd intifada in President Clinton’s administration and supported his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians; I grieved with you after 9/11 and supported President George W Bush’s war on terror; and I spoke out for racial equality during President Obama’s administration. Never, though, I have ever felt compelled to speak out against the president himself. I may have taken issue with policy initiatives but I never doubted the integrity or values on which the president stood.
When President Trump responded twice - on Saturday August 12 and Monday August 14 - by stating that “many sides” are to blame for the violence and bloodshed in Charlottesville, I was appalled. To equate white supremacy and hate-speech with those who were standing for love and justice, was despicable. So it is with a heavy heart that I respond both as a Jew and as an American to the values we should always represent and live by.
In our Torah reading this morning we were presented with contradictory statements. In Chapter 15 verse 4 God promises the people of Israel that “there will never be those in need among you” but 7 sentences later in verse 11 God tells the people that we "must care for the needy among the people". How can that be? How can God say that there won’t be needy and in the same breath say that we must care for the needy? What needy people should there be to take care of? Rashi explains that if we live up to our promise and live by the covenant then our community will be blessed and there will be no one need. It is only if we choose to neglect the laws and teachings of the Torah that there will be poverty. The greater lesson from this is clear. Evil in society is a result of the human condition. We can decide to make this world a better place. Not only should we be guided by the moral and religious values of our tradition but we need to advocate for those principles as well. As Leviticus chapter 19 states, we "can’t stand idly by the blood of our fellow”. When we see someone in distress, when we see basic human rights being violated, when our leaders condone hatred and violence, then we must respond.
As an American it is also clear from the earliest moments in our country’s history, that our founding fathers foresaw a country where all its inhabitants and citizens would be free and be treated fairly and equally. Upon President George Washington’s election as our first president, the leadership of all 6 synagogues in America at the time (Newport, RI, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond, VA, Charleston, SC and Savannah GA) wrote him a letter in which they expressed congratulations and expressed the home that they - the Jewish community - would always be protected. President Washington famously responded that his and all subsequent governments would “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Since then it is our American imperative to assure equality and justice for all.
Therefore I see no choice but to voice my protest against President Trump. His equivocal response I feel condones the activities of the white supremacists and other hate groups. We must as Americans and Jews speak out against his words and we must not allow such groups to have a voice, let alone a following. Please be clear I understand that I walk a very fine line of being seen as going against our 501c3 status as not being allowed to take such a hard political stance. I am not speaking out against the President because of his political views. I speak out against him because of his moral standing. This is a response - a Jewish and American response - to his words and the threat those words pose to our own moral and religious fabric as an American society. I have no choice but to speak out and advocate for love and equality.
What can we do? First, this evening - August 20 - there will be a solidarity rally at the intersection of Georgia Ave and Rte 108 from 7-8pm. This rally is intended to be non-political and simply a time to gather to mourn the deaths of the three who were killed last Saturday. It will also be a time to promote messages of love and unity. Click here for more information.
There are many other organizations that stand for the rights of others that should be supported. The ADL the NAACP the Southern Poverty Law Center the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jews United for Justice are just some of those that come to mind. I encourage you to check their websites and consider supporting their efforts.
As Genesis chapter 1 teaches, Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter what color their skin was, it could have been all colors, because all human beings are reflections of God. May the day come soon when our society will reflect that ideal.