Joining with Chabon & Waldman to Challenge What this Shocking Photo Means
That photograph from Charlottesville and, even more, the Trump press conference that pretended to explain it away, traumatized many chunks of American society – – and perhaps most sharply, the American Jewish community.
For the first time in three generations, many American Jews suddenly felt unsafe in what they had come to feel was truly the Promised Land.
There have been two different efforts to respond to this sudden onslaught of fear.
One has been to encourage a pastoral calm and comfort, in which politically differing members of a given congregation could smooth over their differences through their concern to keep on good and loving terms with each other.
The other has been to encourage what might be called not "pastoral comfort" but "prophetic comfort”: the comfort of a prophetic community, united in song and spirit and determination to challenge the emergence of neo-Nazism and rabid anti-Semitism in places of great power and in violent eruptions at the grass roots.
In the midst of this unplanned exploration of new intellectual, emotional, and spiritual territory, the community found itself addressed by an "Open Letter to Our FelJow Jews.”
It came from Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (authors, respectively, of several brilliant novels including The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and of seven mystery novels in the series The Mommy-Track Mysteries). What they wrote is clearly in the prophetic, not the pastoral, mode.
Now and again below the text of their letter, we are inviting you to join in it. To join in speaking truth to white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic power.
We believe that during a great crisis, the fullest pastoral joy and calm come not instead of prophetic action, but as the result of well-aimed prophetic action.
"AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR FELLOW JEWS
"To our fellow Jews, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world:
"We know that, up to now, some of you have made an effort to reserve judgment on the question of whether or not President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, and to give him the benefit of the doubt. Some of you voted for him last November. Some of you have found employment in his service, or have involved yourself with him in private business deals, or in diplomatic ties.
“You have counted carefully as each appointment to his administration of a white supremacist, anti-Semite, neo-Nazi or crypto-fascist appeared to be counterbalanced by the appointment of a fellow Jew, and reassured yourself that the most troubling of those hires would be cumulatively outweighed by the presence, in his own family and circle of closest advisors, of a Jewish son-in-law and daughter.
"You have given your support to the President’s long and appalling record of racist statements, at worst assenting to them, at best dismissing them as the empty blandishments of a huckster at work, and have chosen to see the warm reception that his rhetoric found among the hood-wearers, weekend stormtroopers, and militias of hate as proof of the gullibility of a bunch of patsies, however distasteful.
“"You have viewed him as a potential friend to Israel, or a reliable enemy of Israel’s enemies.
"You have tried to allay or dismiss your fears with the knowledge that most of the President’s hateful words and actions, along with those of his appointees, have targeted other people — immigrants, Black people, and Muslims — taking hollow consolation in how open and shameless his hate has been, as if that openness and shamelessness guaranteed the absence, in his heart and in his administration, of any hidden hatred for us.
"The President has no filter, no self-control, you have told yourself. If he were an anti-Semite — a Nazi sympathizer, a friend of the Jew-hating Klan — we would know about it, by now. By now, he would surely have told us.
"Yesterday, in a long and ragged off-the-cuff address to the press corps, President Trump told us. During a moment that white supremacist godfather Steve Bannon has apparently described as a “defining” one for this Administration, the President expressed admiration and sympathy for a group of white supremacist demonstrators who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, flaunting Swastikas and openly chanting, along with vile racist slogans, 'Jews will not replace us!' Among those demonstrators, according to Trump, were 'a lot' of ‘innocent' and 'very fine people.'
"So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils.
"You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
"Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.
"To Steven Mnuchin [Secretary of the Treasury], Gary Cohn [chief economic advisor to the President], and our other fellow Jews currently serving under this odious regime: We call upon you to resign; and to the President’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen: Fire your client.
"To Sheldon Adelson and our other fellow Jews still engaged in making the repugnant calculation that a hater of Arabs must be a lover of Jews, or that money trumps hate, or that a million dollars’ worth of access can protect you from one boot heel at the door: Wise up.
“To the government of Israel, and our fellow Jews living there: Wise up.
"To Jared Kushner: You have one minute to do whatever it takes to keep the history of your people from looking back on you as among its greatest traitors, and greatest fools; that minute is nearly past. To Ivanka Trump: Allow us to teach you an ancient and venerable phrase, long employed by Jewish parents and children to one another at such moments of family crisis: I’ll sit shiva for you. Try it out on your father; see how it goes.
"Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.
"To our fellow Jews, in North America, in Israel, and around the world: What side are you on?
Berkeley, California, 8/16/17"
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Most of us usually think of the ancient Prophets as individuals – – though we see evidence that around Jeremiah, for example, there was a religio-political cluster.
Today, must we leave the prophetic voice only to individuals like Chabon and Waldman? Can the prophetic voice be spoken by a broad movement of Jews committed to the revitalization of Judaism in both prayer and politics and in the fusion of the two?
Can we call upon all rabbis to read the Chabon-Waldman letter in their congregations on Shabbat, and add a two-word sermon: “I agree!” -- ??
The Shalom Center intends to try. We invite you – – any and all of you -- to affirm that we agree with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.
We invite you to direct a petitionary demand to the six Jews whom they have named as continuing, despite all Jewish values, to serve as close advisers to a racist, hate-filled, Earth-poisoning, and anti-Semitic President.
At The Shalom Center, we will make sure this demand reaches Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Michael D. Cohen, Sheldon Adelson, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump.
Six prophetic challenges can bring us to the Seventh Time and Place – a joyful calm, a Shabbat of community renewed.