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Archive for October, 2017

It was the day after our last Jewish Food and Cultural Festival. I came into my office and saw I had a voicemail. I pressed the button to listen. Here was what I heard, “Heil Hitler! I am going to put you Jews into my concentration camps…” Some of the rest was garbled but it ended with this, “you Jews have to stop stealing our money.” A few weeks later we learned that a white supremacist group, The Republic of Florida Militia, had posted on FaceBook they were having a protest at Temple Israel. The incident turned out to be a big nothing, but was worrisome nonetheless.

But there is more. Our teens are experiencing anti-Semitic incidents in their middle schools and high schools at levels I have not witnessed in my 16+ years in Tallahassee. Shomrei Torah received 2 anti-Semitic letters. Now put this in the national context. The ADL reports that anti-Semitic incidents have surged in 2016 and 2017, as much as 86%. Most recently, white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA, shouted “Jews will not replace us!” as they marched through the city. Interviews with participants were clear about their hatred of Jews, stating the often held racist view that Jews control the country.

We Jews are not the only people experiencing hatred. This past June a white man in a Chicago Starbucks was filmed calling a black man a slave. In May racist graffiti was sprayed on LeBron James’ home in Los Angeles. In College Park, MD an African American, Richard Collins III, a lieutenant in the US army, a senior at HBCU Bowie State University, who was only days away from graduating, was stabbed to death by Sean Urbanski, a white student at the University of Maryland who was a member of the Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” Add to these more horrifying incidents like the murder of Philando Castile by a policeman in St. Paul, or the massacre of 9 members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church by Dylan Roof.

The existence of racisim and anti-Semitism is very real, and I see deep parallels. We Jews have an extensive history of suffering from anti-Semitism. The African American community has a sad and deeply disturbing history of being victims of racism in the United States; our country that prides itself on equality. It is time to face reality.

What is that reality? It is partly demonstrated by two events that occurred in Tallahassee schools last year. At SAIL High School a group of students laid down on the school grounds and created a human swastika. At Chiles High School for weeks a group of students displayed Confederate flags on their pickup trucks. It was only after a social media threat that the principle of Chiles banned their display. The reality is that we are failing to properly teach our youth about the history of bigotry, about how even symbols of hatred can be oppressive. We are failing to provide them with moral examples.

I am sure everyone here is appalled by the sight of a swastika. It is a horrible symbol of oppression, not just for Jews, but numerous others. I am not sure that everyone understands how, for many people, especially African Americans, the Confederate flag inspires the same emotions. Many folks are taught a version of Civil War history that excuses the leaders of the Confederacy; stating they revolted to protect state’s rights. Here is the fact. The state’s right they wished to protect was slavery. Further, the constitution does not give a state the right to secede from the Union. Ergo those who rebelled and formed the Confederacy were traitors to the United States: traitors who, knowingly or not, defended the right for whites to own black slaves.

How does the Confederate flag fit into this? It was a battle flag carried by Confederate armies. It symbolizes the actual war against the United States, and was adopted by racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, carried in their fight against attempts to create equality for African Americans. One of the most famous examples is the use of the Confederate battle flag by protestors supporting George Wallace, as he stood in the doorway of a schoolhouse to prevent the admission of blacks to the University of Alabama. Often when Wallace would speak, that flag would be displayed behind him, or on his podium. His speech in the doorway promised “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The Confederate flag is associated with the defense of segregation. To the black community, it has the same emotional effect as a Nazi flag does to Jews.

For the black community, the Confederate flag is a reminder of decades of the horrifying experiences they suffered. Recently Audrey and I had the chance to visit the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC. It is in the old Woolworth’s store where demonstrations to end segregation at its lunch counter took place. On February 1, 1960, four African American college freshman sat down at the white section of the lunch counter. Over the next several months the protests grew, with whites and blacks coming together to try and end segregation. I must say that seeing the actual lunch counter, while hearing this history, was intensely moving. More important, the museum presents the brutality African Americans experienced for over a century after slavery ended.

First was the degradation of segregation: separate schools, using separate bathrooms than whites, drinking from separate water fountains than whites, to be forbidden from staying in the same hotel as whites. The list seems endless. The museum had a coke machine from the 1950’s which was 2 sided. One side faced a whites only waiting room in a train station, the other side faced a blacks only waiting room. The side for the whites was a nickel cheaper than the coke for blacks, and although the machine had on it the cokes were ice cold, that was only true for the white customers. Schools were supposedly separate but equal. Just take a look at pictures of white classrooms and black classrooms during that era. The facilities and learning materials provided to blacks in public schools were disgustingly inferior, based on the thought that blacks did not have the same learning capacity as whites. It was thought, for example, that blacks’ brains would become non-functional above a certain altitude. It took the formation and success of the Tuskegee Airmen to demonstrate how stupidly wrong that was.

The most horrifying aspects of black life in post Civil War America were the violent vigilante actions by the KKK and similar groups. Earlier this year was a reminder of one of the worst episodes, the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till in 1955. Till was accused of flirting and dog whistling Carolyn Bryant, a married white woman. Till, from Chicago, was visiting family in Money, MS. He was abducted by Bryant’s husband and a helper; tortured and killed. His body, so disfigured it was not recognizable except by a ring he was wearing, was found in a river. The murderers were found not guilty. A number of months ago, Carolyn Bryant admitted that Till did not flirt with or whistle at her.

Emmett Till was a famous case. Have you ever heard of Ben Chester White? He was a sharecropper who at 67 years old in March of 1966 was shot 17 times by a KKK group to attempt to lure Dr. Martin Luther King to their area of Mississippi in order to murder him.

These are only two of the unending terrorist attacks that African Americans suffered, in addition to the inequality of segregation and denial of access to the resources necessary to lift themselves to a better life. Having a history of over a century of being treated as second class citizens, is it any wonder that the killing of African Americans by police ignites protests by Black Lives Matter? The incidents open the wounds of recent African American history and the systemic racism that still exists.

We, as Jews, should understand that feeling. A few weeks ago a congregant here made me aware of a FaceBook site called “Jewish Ritual Murders.” This site claimed that incidents of Jews killing Christian children for ritual purposes, dating back to early medieval times were true. It criticized Jews for not acknowledging that these murders are part of our history, as well as condemning us for refusal to admit that we have rituals requiring murder to obtain blood. The site attempted to appear logical, and moderate, by saying many religions have rituals requiring murder, so why don’t we Jews own our past? How many of you know of any Jew who has practiced the tradition of killing a Christian child to obtain their blood to make Passover matzah? That’s because there is no such ritual. There is nothing in Jewish text, tradition or practice that even mentions this. This is known as blood libel and has been used against Jews, to justify the oppression of Jews, for centuries.

Blood libel is likely the invention of an English Benedictine monk in the 12th century. A young boy, William of Norwich, was found dead in 1144. The monk blamed his death on local Jews; but as there was no evidence, the authorities did not prosecute anyone. In 1190, however, the Jews of Norwich were massacred in revenge for the murder – 46 years later! Jews were expelled from England in 1290.

There are numerous other accusations of Jews committing blood libel. One of the most famous is from 1475 and the death of a 3 year old boy, Simon of Trent in Italy. Torture was used to force false confessions from the Jews of Trent and 8 were executed.

These events can be read about on line today in radical Catholic sites that try to affirm them as proven cases of Jewish guilt, and the existence of ritual murder as part of Judaism. Add to this another aspect of Jewish history from the early middle ages. Jews were forbidden to own land or to practice most professions. An exception was money lending. This is used to accuse Jews of being shady characters, out to steal Christian’s money. Our historic oppression is twisted against us even today, feeding the flames of anti-Semitism.

We all know how recent history affected Jews. In addition to the Holocaust there was also strong anti-Semitism right here in America. Father Charles A. Coughlin used his radio show to deride Jews, implying their depravity in phrases like “international bankers,” and criticizing Jewish financiers for their attempts to control the world. As the situation for Jews grew worse in Europe, the Roosevelt administration did little to increase immigration quotas to allow more Jews to escape the Nazis. A group of American athletes supported a boycott of the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but Avery Brundage, chair of the American Olympic committee, refused to acknowledge the mistreatment of Jews in Germany. Later, as head of the international Olympic committee during the 1972 Olympics, Brundage refused to end the Munich Olympics after the murder of 9 Israelis by terrorists. For decades Jews were subject to quotas at many universities. My own parents were prevented from joining a social club in Fairmont, W. VA because they were Jewish.

Can anyone really criticize us for being a bit hypersensitive when anti-Semitic incidents occur? Can anyone really criticize African Americans when incidents arouse their recent memories of an oppressed existence in America? The historical memories of blacks and Jews are why our reactions to the events in Charlottesville, VA are so strong. Seeing confederate flags and swastika flags carried side by side ignites the worst fears in both of our communal memories. The prejudice we hoped would die is clearly still alive.

But Charlottesville does not represent the full reality of racism and anti-Semitism. It represents the extreme. Most Americans are not neo Nazis or white supremacists. The reality of bigotry is far more subtle, yet pervasive. It is present in ways we don’t often acknowledge or even recognize.

For African Americans the reality of bigotry is present in every day life. Yes, the police shootings get a lot of media attention, but how often do you either feel or witness distrust of blacks? When I was 23 and living in Philadelphia I was a big brother to a 9 year old African American child. The Big Brother headquarters were located in a north Philadelphia neighborhood that was mostly African American. It was just after a major snowstorm, and I needed to pick up some paperwork at that office. When I came out, my car was stuck in the snow. Every time I pushed the gas pedal the wheels just spun. I looked up and saw 4 young black men coming towards me. My initial thought was “Oh boy, I am in big trouble.” They knocked on my window and asked if I needed help getting out. I said yes, and the 4 of them helped push the car out of the snow. I offered them $10 but they refused, saying they just wanted to help. I must ask, how would you feel now seeing 4 young black men coming towards you with your car stuck in the snow? If you say the feeling of distrust is natural then think about how you would feel if it was 4 young white men.

African Americans sense the institutionalization of racism. And they resent when facts are twisted to deny the truth of their feelings. For example, I have seen posts in FaceBook dismissing the existence of institutional racism based on a Harvard study comparing the experiences of whites and blacks with police. The study shows that more whites are killed by police than blacks, so the concerns of blacks are belittled. However, that one statistic does not properly represent what the study really shows. First of all, it is not a vetted study. Second, it examined not only shootings, but the overall handling of people stopped by police. Items such as, the ratio of people handcuffed, thrown to the ground and in other ways physically mishandled showed that blacks are treated very differently from whites. The outlier was deaths caused by shootings. However, the study did not cover to what degree whites are stopped compared to blacks.

There is more. Studies have been done in which resumes of equal qualifications are looked over by companies looking to hire. If the name on the resume is an ethnic black name, like Jamal, that person is less likely to be called for an interview than someone named James. There is still a subtle, pervasive sense that blacks are not as capable as whites.

Blacks are seen as the prime recipients of welfare, as being lazy, as being the source of most crime. The ratio of blacks serving in prison far exceeds that of whites and one must ask, is it because blacks commit more crimes or because the sentencing is so different for blacks than whites? According to a survey done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 2005 to 2012 black men received 5% to 10% longer prison sentences for similar crimes. Other studies show the difference as much as 60%!

No, most Americans are not white supremacists. But these institutional, embedded prejudices are proven, and African Americans must live with them, feeling them constantly. To me this is intensely sad. Last spring I know most of you were at least aware of, if not attending, the Requiem of Resistance. A core of the choir was the student chorus from FAMU. For most of them, this was the first time they ever had the chance to sing with a symphony orchestra. When the concert was over, those of us who organized the event joined the FAMU student choir for dinner at Cabos. I went around to each table thanking them for their hard work and talent. Every student told me how honored they were to participate and what a great experience it was. While we were eating, they broke into song, passionately singing gospel music. It was beautiful, but then I felt sad. Here was a room full of talented, wonderful young people, who are going to face difficulty because of bigotry based on their skin color. It will likely not be the outright hatred of racists, but the subtle societal and institutional roadblocks. They do not deserve that.

We Jews can understand exactly how African Americans feel. Despite the recognized heights of success many Jews have achieved, hatred is still alive. The typical accusations against Jews, that we control the media, the banks, and want to control the world – are all still alive. And we are also sensitive to statements. Remember a few years when Ann Coulter said in an interview, “We just want Jews to be perfected.”? That resurrected all the ill feelings about Christians who try to convert Jews. We do not see that as Christians expressing love for us as individuals they want to save from hell. We see that as hatred of Judaism and Jews.

We also fool ourselves in not recognizing that anti-Semitism exists on the left as well as the right. Oberlin College fired Joy Karega for anti-Semitic posts that included a picture of Jacob Rothschild adding the words, “We own your news, the media, your oil and your government.” Last night I related the anti-Semitic reaction of leaders of the Dyke march in Chicago this past June when they banned lesbians carrying rainbow flags with Jewish stars on them. We fail to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is rampant in the Arab world and that many Islamic leaders condemn Judaism as a religion of lies. Anti-Semitism exists across the political spectrum, which is why we feel its presence is often an underlying tone in society.

What is the reality of bigotry? No one is born a racist or an anti-Semite. We are all blank slates. We all have the potential for love or hate, depending on what we learn as we age. The presence of bigotry is complex. Yet I think the solution is rather simple and well expressed by 3 important commands from the Torah portion we will read this afternoon.

The first – “Do not stand on the blood of your neighbor.” Rashi puts it very clearly, if you can save your neighbor, do it. I believe this is not just about throwing a life saver to a drowning person, but standing up for the rights that will preserve their ability to live the same as us.

The second – “You shall reprove your fellow and not bear a sin on his account.” If someone with you expresses bigotry or hate, correct them, teach them the truth, moral truth and factual truth. Silence in the presence of bigotry makes you a contributor to their sin.

The third – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Not just the person like you, the person in your family or ethnic group, but the stranger, the person who is different.

It is Yom Kippur. It is the day we plead to God for forgiveness. One way we do this is through the words of al cheit.

Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha – For the sins we have done before You by failing to acknowledge the bigotry suffered by others.

Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha – For the sins we have done before You by failing to recognize sources of bigotry against ourselves.

Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha – For the sins we have done before You by failing to properly educate our children about the history of hate.

Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha – For the sins we have committed before You by failing to rebuke acts and words of bigotry even when spoken by friends.

Al cheit shechatanu lefanecha – For the sin we have committed before You by failing to accept the stranger as ourselves.

For all these sins, Adonai our God, help us to find a path to repentance, to atonement, to creating a better, more just world.

Kein yehi ratzon – may this be your will.     Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The first time I was criticized for a sermon commenting on politics was in the fall of 1998. I was the new student rabbi in Fredericksburg, VA, during the middle of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. The weekly haftarah portion contained King David’s confession to Natan the prophet that he had “lied before God.” In the sermon I condemned President Clinton’s lying about his involvement with Lewinsky, as well as his misuse of Presidential power to take advantage of a 22 year old female intern. To me, his lying and abuse of his position of power were obvious moral issues, not political issues. So I was shocked at the response of congregants, who hated my criticism of the Democratic president they loved. I was dumbfounded by liberal and feminist justifications for President Clinton’s actions. It became clear to me that morality did not matter, if the immoral character represented your favored political views.

That is not how I operate. Yes, I think that Bill Clinton was a skilled politician who generally moved the country in a better direction. In the end, however, his presidency was a disappointment because of his immoral behavior. A president is not just a political leader, but needs to be a model for how Americans should behave, especially towards each other. That is not to say a president needs to be perfect. We are all human, so perfection is impossible. More important, I feel we, as American citizens, need to make our priority in judging any individual, political or otherwise, first by their moral character, based on their behavior, before judging by political policies. Jimmy Carter is considered a poor president. We can debate that another time. However, he may have modeled the finest post presidency of anyone in my lifetime. Over the past 4 decades, Carter has created numerous initiatives to help the underprivileged. He raised the profile of Habitat for Humanity. He is a devout Christian, who still conducts Sunday school classes at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, GA. George H. W. Bush has also proven his decency of character during and after his presidency, as has his son George W. Bush. Did I agree with most of both President Bush’s policies? No, but each has provided moral leadership which I deeply appreciate.

Tonight I predict I will anger almost everyone in this room. Why? Because you will consider what I say to be about politics, not morality. You will be upset by the examples I give, as they will insult liberals and conservatives alike. You will likely only hear what you expect to hear. Let me be blunt. I am fine with you being ticked off at me. I have lived long enough and witnessed enough history to tell you I cannot stand the current direction of our country. We are allowing the moral beliefs we claim to embrace, to be undermined by our political preferences. We are refusing to face facts, to accept realities that prove our desires and instincts wrong. In that process, we are adding to the atmosphere of hatred instead of working to find ways to embrace each other.

Let me begin by outlining 3 basic moral principles that I am positive all Jews, if you claim to be a serious Jew, must embrace.

The first is accepting the stranger. The number of references in the Torah to this, which often add “remember you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” is amazing – generally counted as 36 times. These references range from the person not born into the community, to those brought as servants or slaves, to the orphans, widows and poor. The point is that we must accept those who are not like ourselves, the person we see as an outsider. Torah teaches that the stranger is entitled to most of the same legal protection as the citizen. Even more is this teaching, “Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai: verbal wrongdoing is worse than monetary wrongdoing, because of the first it is written “And you shall fear your God” but not of the second. Rabbi Eleazar said: one affects the person, the other only his money. Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said: for one restoration is possible, but not for the other.” The point is clear. A monetary wrong can be corrected. A verbal abuse cannot. Despite an apology, the feelings caused by verbal abuse linger. Look at the expressions of prejudice and hate by so many today. Those memories linger. They hurt even after an apology. The bottom line of this basic principle – be open, accepting and sensitive to those unlike yourself.

The second overarching moral principle is to not accept the existence of poverty. This is made very clear by Deuteronomy chapter 15. We are commanded to not allow poverty to exist. We must provide for the poor what they need to raise themselves up. This is often in the form of a loan that is forgiven every 7th year. The chapter stresses that as long as there are people, there will be those who are poor. We must extend them our help. Those of you with strictly political orientation will read the passage as a green light for your conservative or liberal policies. That is not the point. Torah does not specify if the aid is by government programs or individual charity. We must simply help the poor. Further, we must not judge the poor as deserving of their fate. Rather, we should accept that any of us can fall into hard times, needing aid. Jews do not take the perspective that praying to God to help those in need is enough. We must act as though there is no God, and work to relieve the suffering of others.

Third is the respect for alternate points of view. This is illustrated by Talmudic excerpts about the disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, who represent different interpretations of the law. Here is how the Talmud characterizes their disputes, Rabbi Abba said in the name of Samuel, “For 3 years there was a dispute between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel, each one asserting “the law is according to our view.” Then a divine voice went forth and said, ‘These and these are both the words of the living God, but the law is according to the school of Hillel.” Since both are the words of the living God, what entitled the school of Hillel to have the law fixed according to their rulings? Because they were kindly and humble. They taught their own rulings as well as those of the school of Shammai. And even more, they taught the rulings of the school of Shammai before their own. This should teach you that he who humbles himself is exalted by the Holy One, and he who exalts himself is humbled by the Holy One.”

I love this teaching. Despite strong disagreement, we must see the divinity of the person arguing the other side. Further, it is not the logic or force of your argument that decides if you are correct, rather humility and moral behavior.

Are there many other Jewish morals important to embrace? Of course. I just see these 3 as general encompassing ideas of most the other morals you will find in our sacred texts. I will be blunt. Following these 3 moral generalities indicates a true embracing of your Judaism. Your political leaning does not.

Now I will get into the weeds. On the radical left is a concept known as intersectionality. What is that, you ask? It is seeing the connections between all kinds of oppressions.  But intersectionality has become the belief that anyone who does not share ALL of your beliefs over who are oppressed victims cannot be an ally in a particular protest or movement. One example is tying the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank to the suffering of African Americans in the United States. A leftist who believes in intersectionality does not believe you can support Black Lives Matter, for example, if your support the State of Israel in any way, because Israel is judged to be oppressive of Palestinians. Some of my colleagues were banned from participating in demonstrations protesting the killing of Michael Brown and its impact on the black community of Ferguson, MO. The assumption was, because they were rabbis who supported the existence of Israel, they could not honestly understand black oppression, as they did not understand Palestinian oppression. The problems here are obvious. You can totally understand the difficulties facing Palestinians and still support the existence of Israel. Further, your position on Israel has nothing to do with understanding the plight of African Americans. When a Jew is excluded from a protest on injustice in America because they support Israel, that is politics overcoming morality.

Condemnation of Zionism as oppression reflects a lack of understanding Jewish and Israeli history. Assumptions about Jews who utilize a symbol some connect to Israel is anti-Semitism. This happened at the Dyke march in Chicago on June 24, 3 Jewish lesbians came with rainbow flags, symbols of the LGBTQ community, but with Jewish stars on them.  They were asked to leave the event by the organizers who claimed their flags represented a threat to Palestinian participants. These Jewish women were not there to advocate for Israel, but to express their pride as Jewish lesbians.

Intersectionalism is very strong on college campuses, exemplified by intolerance for conservative speakers or those who even question certain activities on campuses. An example of this occurred in the fall of 2015 at Yale, when a letter went out to students telling them to be sensitive over the kinds of Halloween costumes they wore so as not to offend anyone. Erika Christakis, a professor of early childhood education who also presided over a residence hall, sent a letter, very thoughtfully and civilly written, inviting the students to think about this issue intellectually, and discuss what is offensive and what is not. If you see the video of how she and her husband were cursed at by students, calling her racist, swearing at them, denigrating them for insensitivity, you will see a scary example of closed thought. The students’ politics overrode their morality on how to treat people and have a thoughtful conversation.

Linda Sarsour, is a very controversial figure in left wing politics. She is a Palestinian American and one of the organizers of the woman’s march that took place shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. That march was a seminal moment for many concerned about women’s rights. It was a peaceful, powerful event with a huge turnout around the nation. Indeed, Sarsour is an advocate for many who are downtrodden. She seems, however, to be an intersectionalist. She helped organize the events in Ferguson that banned some rabbis. She regularly condemns Zionism as oppressive, vocalizing it in troubling ways that feel anti-Semitic. An example of this occurred in August, during a protest at NFL offices supporting the right of quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem. During that rally, Sarsour stated, “We will not be silenced by blue lives matter, by white supremacists, by neo Nazis, by right wing Zionists.”

I must be completely fair, however. Linda Sarsour, you should know, is a complicated figure that I do not fully condemn. When the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized earlier this year, Sarsour helped to initiate a fundraising drive in the Muslim community that brought in close to 130 thousand dollars. She worked with a classmate of mine in St. Louis who thought her work was wonderful. Sarsour also urged folks who follow her to donate to various sites that provided aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

My questioning of a leftist is this. Do you dismiss or ignore anti-Semitism from activists who represent political stands you endorse? Do you cling so hard to political correctness that you condemn anyone disagreeing with an aspect of left wing perspectives? Do you believe that free speech should be limited to liberal values and perspectives? If yes, then politics are subverting your morals.

In truth, however, left wing activists are currently only minor players in the political arena. The centerpiece of immorality in today’s politics is, unfortunately, the President of the United States, Donald Trump. I want to share with you the words of Peter Wehner, an evangelical Christian who served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations. I have met and spoken with Peter, and while he and I will disagree on the details of numerous issues, we are both frustrated with the corruption of morality at the expense of political perspective. In an article published on August 11, he wrote:

The same qualities that Mr. Trump showed during the campaign have continued in his presidency. He lies pathologically. Mr. Trump exhibits crude and cruel behavior, relishes humiliating those over whom he has power and dehumanizes his political opponents, women and the weak. He is indifferent to objective truth, trades in conspiracy theories and exploits the darker impulses of the public. His style of politics is characterized by stoking anger and grievances rather than demonstrating empathy and justice.

Now comes the hard part of what I am trying to do – to separate the areas of policy and morality. It is difficult because for many issues, we, whether liberal or conservative, see policy as representing our morality.

Remember the first moral principle I described, to be open and sensitive to those not like yourself? Trump, first as a candidate and now as president fails at this; miserably. His campaign began with an indictment of Mexican immigrants, claiming their presence raises the crime rate. As president, Trump continues to claim his policy is meant to reduce the crime rate. Facts, however, contradict this claim. There is no statistical evidence that immigrants, whether undocumented or legal, increase the crime rate. Indeed, there are many studies that confirm the opposite. The repeal of DACA, which places innocent people who arrived as children, and raised in the United States; is seen by many across the political aisle as immoral. Immigration, however, is mostly about policy. We can all disagree over the number of immigrants that should be allowed into the US or whether DACA should have been a law passed by congress. Trump’s immoral view of people unlike himself is confirmed by numerous other examples, not just immigration policy.

The most obvious is his responses to the demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA in August, which were criticized by many across the political spectrum. One moment he condemned the presence of neo-Nazis, but then asserted that there were fine people on both sides of the demonstrations. It should be morally clear, no one marching with white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, or anti-Semites can in any way be “fine.” Further, in trying to defend the original intent of the protesters, the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee, he inappropriately asked if we should now take down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, since they were slave owners. Lee’s statue represents the rebellion of traitors against the United States. Washington and Jefferson were founding fathers who were key contributors to establishing the early greatness of our country. There is no appropriate comparison.

Further, figures like former KKK head David Duke and white nationalist Richard Spencer, confirmed that the ultra right wing protests were in support of Trump and his positions. They felt affirmed by him. If you look at the content of many of Trump’s campaign rallies along with his speeches, his focus against non whites and non Christians, his tweets and insults of other candidates; all gave a green light to racist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic believers.

You could legitimately argue that Trump is not himself racist or anti-Semitic, since his own daughter and all of his grandchildren are Jewish. I would then assert he is a heartless, narcissistic manipulator of people, playing upon a particular constituency’s prejudice to inspire and gain support from a bigoted group of supporters. It is a fact that proven white supremacists and anti-Semites are part of his constituency. If your politics drives your feelings, then you find ways to explain or justify this – and that is plainly immoral. Trump’s immorality is absolutely confirmed by his history of embracing birtherism – the belief that President Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was not qualified to be president. This was completely false, yet, since 2011 Trump embraced this claiming to be investigating Obama’s origins. This lie catered to those who hated Obama because of his race, not necessarily because of his policies. Birtherism placed Trump in opposition to Obama in a way that appealed to the most bigoted segment of America. On September 16, 2016 Trump held a press conference in which he finally acknowledged Obama was born in Hawaii. There was no apology for 5 years of lying. Rather, he continued to insist that the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2008 initiated the birther controversy. A fact check proves that completely wrong.

There are many aspects of Obama’s policies and programs about which we might disagree. My purpose is not to defend any of his political positions. However, the proliferation of birtherism and all of its related bigoted activities by Donald Trump is outright immoral. His use of this to motivate supporters is immoral. If you fail to see this, or if you justify it because you support Trump, then your political leanings have overcome your moral sense. Further, if you fail to see that Barak and Michelle Obama, no matter what you think of their politics, have a loving 25+ year marriage and conduct themselves as a model for all American families in the way they act as a family, your moral sense has been overcome by your politics. That is true especially if you overlook Trump’s mistreatment of women, his failed marriages, his clear disrespect for non-whites and non Christians, and his continually growing list of outright lies.

Most disturbingly, the domination of our morality by politics has killed the potential for dialogue across the divide of beliefs. This process has been going on for years. It has been fed by certain cable news channels, who act as propaganda mouthpieces for their favored political party. It has been fed by interactions on social media, in which our trend is to only read feeds that affirm our political beliefs in spite of proven fact. It has been fed by the leftist belief in intersectionality that has led to the squashing of freedom of speech on numerous university campuses. But currently, it is mostly fed by a president who, using cowardly tweets, denigrates anyone with whom he disagrees. His base loves his aggressive chest thumping, but know this, that level of narcissism is destroying the moral base of our country. I see the result every day on FaceBook. I see liberals and conservatives mocking each other, claiming that the other is a threat to our society. Nonsense! Our country thrives on the interactions between different political views, as long as we embrace the basic moral principle of seeing our opponent as another one of God’s creations, not as someone evil, but who intends goodness for our country even if we disagree on policy.

We began tonight’s service with the chanting of the prayer, Kol Nidrei. That is actually a rather odd prayer. It asks God to allow us to break vows we have made in the last year. Its origin lies in a time when Jews were being forced to convert to other religions, and they wanted God to forgive their breaking of that vow in order to stay Jewish. Tonight I ask you to break another vow in order to stay Jewish. I ask you to break your vow to submit to a political perspective. If we can free ourselves from subservience to political loyalty and embrace morality as our priority, we can create a different reality. Then Democrats, Republicans, independents, liberals, conservatives and moderates will have a foundation to disagree civilly, but work together to move America to a higher plain.

Kein yehi ratzon – may that be God’s and our will.

Amen

 

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