Is Anybody Listening?

Image: Two birds interact on the edge of a birdbath. (Andrew Martin / Pixabay)

It’s a war out there. I’m talking about social media, but also our culture at large. I say it is a “war” because all I hear about is the need to fight.

The lefties are talking about the need to fight xenophobia, racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrationism, Trumpism, ICE, and Republicans, especially #Mitch. Some lefties are talking about the need to fight Zionism.

Folks on the right are talking about the need to fight Constitution-haters, liberals, socialists, communists, snowflakes, elites, Bernie Sanders, the Squad, reverse-racism, housewife haters, and Democrats, especially NancyPelosi. Some on the right are talking about the need to fight race traitors, the #Clintons, George Soros, and Jews.

And yes, I imagine I may have gotten your dander up just a little, with those lists. You’re thinking, “Not ALL…” or “Damn straight, someone has to fight for their principles!” and wondering what is wrong with me, that I don’t see the imperative to fight for what is right.

We’ve all got our talking points. I have mine, too – just read through a few posts on this blog, if you doubt me. We stand on our soapboxes and we holler our talking points at each other and when our words don’t make an impression, we start cussing, and when cussing doesn’t do it, we think of the meanest thing we can say and we throw that at those fools who Refuse. To. Get. It.

And what have we accomplished, after years of this?

We are screaming mad at one another, with no common ground upon which to build a peace. Some of our anger is rooted in tragic losses and real events. Some of our anger has been nurtured – cultivated! – fertilized, even! – by people with something to gain from us all being too angry to do anything but fight.

What would happen if we were to find something to do other than fight? What if I were to ask the next person who calls me an ugly name that I’ll listen to them – really listen! – if we could just identify some common ground?

What if we told each other our deepest fears?

Our Voices Matter, When We Use Them

Image: Men and women at a town hall meeting. (public domain)

A while back I wrote about the ethical implications of the new healthcare bills in Your Money or Your Life – Why the AHCA is Contrary to Torah. At the time I was writing about the healthcare bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, but its ugly sibling, the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 was if anything worse.

Tonight we received the good news (and the majority of the American people appear to agree that it is indeed good news) that there are not sufficient votes in the Senate to pass the bill. This happened not because of derring-do in Washington D.C., but because ordinary citizens let their elected officials know how they felt about the bill. Thousands and thousands of Americans called, emailed, faxed, tweeted and wrote to their senators. Hundreds of others took even stronger action, staging die-ins, demonstrations, and various actions to dramatize their feelings about the legislation.

And their senators listened!

The Jewish tradition teaches us:

When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul. – Taanit 11a

Everyone who spoke up to protest this cruel legislation deserves credit for saving lives. It is up to us to keep on emailing, faxing, tweeting, and writing, to keep on showing up at town meetings, to let our elected officials know what we want and what America needs.

It is not enough to have opinions. It is not enough to yell at the TV. Our opinions only count when we make them known to the people we have elected to represent us. We cannot simply sit at home and grouse about the “bad people” “out there.” We must use our limited resources and energy in the most constructive ways available to us: showing up at the polls for every election, staying in touch with our reps, keeping an eye on the news.

What we learned today is that we can make a difference.

There is still more to do. People need decent jobs, decent affordable housing, and healthcare. We need to find an ethical and effective solution to the situation of immigrants and migrant workers. Climate change threatens our national security and the existence of many species, including our own. We need to secure basic human rights for so many of our citizens and for those who want to become citizens.

Torah demands that we act. The good news today was that when enough of us act, good outcomes are entirely possible.

 

The Wind Report: Jews & Politics

Would you like to read some solid Jewish analysis of politics in this election year? I recommend The Wind Report, a blog by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

WindmuellerOne of the many interesting and valuable classes I took in rabbinical school had to do with Jewish community organizations and life. Dr. Windmueller was one of the teachers for that course. He has since retired from the faculty of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and now his expertise is available to readers with wifi and a smartphone or computer.

Dr. Windmueller’s expertise is not purely academic. From 1973-1985 he served as Executive Director of the Jewish Federation in Albany, NY, and for the following ten years he was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation‘s Community Relations Committee. His tenure at the LA Federation took place during a particularly tumultuous period for the city. In short, Dr. Windmueller knows politics, and he knows Jews and politics.

I also recommend his book, The Quest for Power: A Study in Jewish Political Behavior and Practice. In it, he puts the situation of 21st century American Jews into a historical and sociological context.

Don’t rely on random social media messages from who-knows-who for information about “the Jewish vote” in this election – check out The Wind Report for good information.

 

Jews and American Politics

Vote!One of the major stereotypes about American Jews is that we’re all political liberals. There are in fact many prominent conservatives who are Jewish: Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Eric Cantor, Ken Mehlman, Michael Savage, and more.

What is true is that American Jews tend to be politically engaged. We vote, and we get involved in political campaigns. Our engagement goes way back; I have written before about the letters of congratulations four congregations sent to President Washington and his reply. In 1790, American Jews were acutely aware that this new form of government offered a new hope for minorities like ourselves to live in peace.

In 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant’s office issued General Order #11, a decree which summarily expelled all Jews from Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Cesar J. Kaskel of Paducah, KY immediately set out on a Paul Revere-like ride for Washington DC with a copy of the order, and persuaded a congressman from Ohio to take him to the White House so that he could show it to President Lincoln. The President immediately wrote to Grant, ordering that General Order #11 be revoked.

When General Grant ran for president in 1868, he was faced with a Jewish community who wanted answers about General Order #11, and assurances that no such thing would happen were he elected. He, too, repudiated the order, and later called it “his greatest regret.” (For a readable and complete account of G.O. #11 and its aftermath, I recommend Jonathan D. Sarna’s book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews.)

Ever since then, American Jews have understood that it is important to our survival to be engaged in the political process. We don’t agree on the right candidate, we don’t always agree on the right policy, but we understand that without engagement in the process, we lose our voice in the public arena.  Many Jews understand voting as a way to do tikkun olam, to make the world a better place. Again, there’s no consensus: how any one Jew defines “better” is individual!

Voting is not required by Jewish tradition, but it is a great Jewish American tradition. Whatever your politics, I hope that my readers will honor this tradition and vote whenever they have the opportunity. Our ancestors would envy us that privilege.