Jews Rejecting Trump

Image: Rabbi Rothbaum speaks as Hazzan Wallach and Susan Lubeck hold “Jews Reject Trump” signs. Photo by Bend the Arc.

Last night I participated in a prayer service outside Republican headquarters in my home town of San Leandro, CA.  It was part of a prayer service and demonstration organized nationally by Bend the Arc – Jewish Action.

This year, the Republican candidate for President of the U.S. has made such outrageous statements about Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, and people of color that he has boosted the legitimacy of white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. He tried to avoid repudiating those organizations. His followers have targeted journalists with Jewish names on social media.

As I wrote earlier this month in Stop the Hateful Cycle:

“I believe in free speech and I also believe in the absolute necessity of challenging hateful speech, whether it is justified with a quote from the Bible, from the Quran, or from someone’s sainted grandma. It doesn’t matter how it is justified: it’s still hate. 

 לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not go slandering among your people. Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Leviticus 19:16

This verse has two parts. (1) Don’t slander. (2) Don’t stand on the blood of your neighbor.

These two commandments are side by side because they are related. Hateful speech leads to violence, and when we listen to hateful speech and do not challenge it, we stand in the blood of another human being. We do not remain clean.”

So when I got the call from Bend The Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, inviting me to participate in a rally against Trump (not for any other candidate, merely against Trump and his message) I was glad to participate. There was going to be a meeting at the Republican HQ, and we would be there to witness against racism.

We gathered outside the Republican office on MacArthur Blvd in San Leandro. Bay Area Regional Director Susan Lubeck briefed us quickly on the program and how to behave (support one another, be polite, de-escalate). The program was an observance of the yahrzeit of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman of blessed memory. They were murdered on June 21, 1964 for their voter registration and freedom school activities in segregated Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Susan had notified the San Leandro Police that we would be there, and the beat officer for the neighborhood came up before the program began, just as people were beginning to arrive for the meeting at the Republican HQ. We were careful not to block the door or create problems. The treasurer came out in hopes of shooing us away; he said they didn’t have anything to do with the national candidates. We made note of the “TRUMP” poster in the window and stayed.

Hazzan Risa Wallach led us in a nigun, a wordless hymn. We heard speeches from Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, from Susan Lubeck, and from a woman currently working to raise the minimum wage (I am sorry that I was unable to catch her name.) We also heard from Rabbi Harry Manhoff of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. Hazzan Wallach chanted El Maleh Rachamim [God, Full of Mercy] and then we said Kaddish for the three martyrs.

Periodically people would come out of the meeting and photograph us on their cell phones and make videos. We ignored them. When we began to say Kaddish, they shut the door to the office and we did not interact with them again. Periodically people driving past saw our signs (“Jews Reject Trump”) and honked in support.

It was a quiet, peaceful event (thank goodness!) and over in less than an hour.

I am grateful to Bend the Arc – Jewish Action for their organizing prowess and to Rabbis Rothbaum and Manhoff for their eloquent words. May the day come, and speedily, when no such events are needed ever again.

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Stop the Hateful Cycle

Image: Sign with “Violence” and “Hate Speech” with “No” symbols over them. Photo by John S. Quartermansome rights reserved. Cropped for use here. 

I’ve been listening to the news organizations do their endless “special report” drill on the massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida. I finally turned off the television.

The so-called news had devolved into a cycle of speculation: hate crime? terrorism? domestic? ISIS? wash-rinse-repeat…

Let’s get something straight (pun intended): Hate leads to Terror. The magnitude of this particular act of violence is unprecedented, but there is ample precedent for the hate that inspired it. Someone failed to teach the murderer that violence against anyone is unacceptable. Maybe his parents tried to teach him, but over the years acquaintances listened to his verbal violence against LGBTQ folks and said nothing. Someone heard homophobic words and said nothing. Others encouraged him, all those voices that said “someone ought to do something” or that said that “killing LGBTQ people is God’s will” bear responsibility. That includes ISIS, along with voices closer to home.

I believe in free speech and I also believe in the absolute necessity of challenging hateful speech, whether it is justified with a quote from the Bible, from the Quran, or from someone’s sainted grandma. It doesn’t matter how it is justified: it’s still hate. 

 לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Do not go slandering among your people. Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Leviticus 19:16

This verse has two parts. (1) Don’t slander. (2) Don’t stand on the blood of your neighbor.

These two commandments are side by side because they are related. Hateful speech leads to violence, and when we listen to hateful speech and do not challenge it, we stand in the blood of another human being. We do not remain clean.

(By the way, if anyone is thinking about arguing that “slander isn’t slander if it’s true,” please stop right there. Rechilut, the Hebrew word in question, may also be translated “gossip.” It may be either true or false.)

When we listen passively to anyone (elderly uncles included) talk about what “ought to happen” to a group of people, we stand in the blood of those human beings. This is equally true whether the targeted group is a group we like or a group we don’t like at all.

Let’s resolve to speak up every time we hear hate speech against:

  • LGBTQ people
  • People of color
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • Christians
  • Palestinians
  • Atheists
  • Mormons
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Fat people
  • Thin people
  • Mentally ill people

… and anyone else.

To do less is to stand in the blood of another.

Addendum: I write this as much for myself as for any reader. I, too, have let hate speech pass when I have written off the speaker as beyond learning. I was wrong to do that. I teach not only with my words but with my silence. Whenever I let hateful speech pass unchallenged, I teach the speaker that I think it is OK. I was wrong to do that.

 

 

 

Goodbye, Mr. Phelps.

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Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church died today at age 84. Baruch Dayan emet.

“Baruch Dayan emet” is what Jews say when anyone dies. It means, “Blessed is the True Judge.” It’s appropriate for anyone, saint or sinner or mystery.

Watching twitter today, I saw many responses to Mr. Phelps’ death. Some were thoughtful, some were angry, some were clever, but this was one of those times when I’m glad to be an observant Jew. “Baruch Dayan emet,” I said, grateful for the tradition.

I have no idea what drove Mr. Phelps and his followers to picket funerals and spew hate. He hated a lot of people, including LGBT people, Jews, and a long list of others.

Death is often called “the great equalizer.” Rich or poor, famous or obscure, we all die, and our bodies turn to dust. Fred Phelps is no different in that respect: his body will turn to dust.

But what is not equal after death is the memory we leave behind us.  Jews are apt to say in comforting a mourner: “May the departed’s memory be for a blessing.” That one won’t be used much for Mr. Phelps, if it is used at all. I don’t know what he was to his family, but he made his life into a curse for many LGBT Americans, and for the people mourning at funerals his church picketed. He has left behind an entire generation of people to whom the name “Fred Phelps” will mean cruelty, hurt and disrespect for the dead.

Each of us has some choice over the memories we leave behind us. Choose wisely.

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