I have always believed that the guilt or victim argument made for a poor foundation for Jewish fidelity. In other words, I have always believed that attachment to Judaism and to being Jewish needed to be rooted in things that are positive. You cannot, in my opinion, build a strong foundation on ashes. And I say that as the child of a Holocaust survivor.
So I have looked for and found many positive reasons to be associated with Jews and Judaism, not the least of which is the fact that our tradition wrestles with complexity, with moral messiness, with human frailty, sinfulness, loss, triumph, etc. In other words, Judaism puts on display the full range of human behavior and struggle. Some of it is quite painful and ugly. But we try to do better. We try to tease out lessons for living from what our tradition teaches us. And we continue to question.
Many treat Jews’ propensity to ask questions as a punch line, but I consider it a kind of high water mark. It means we retain a core humility about what we don’t know, about where we have fallen short, about all the work we have yet to do to make the world a better, more just place.
As I think about all that deepens my pride about being Jewish, and about Judaism’s profound contributions to this world, I find myself at the same time distancing myself from those Jews who have chosen to align themselves with an American government that is nothing more, at this juncture, than a criminal enterprise, tilting gleefully and openly toward totalitarianism.
It is deeply distressing to see the parochialism of some in our community trump every other consideration — above all, human decency and Jewish values. There is no humane or authentically Jewish argument for aligning with an administration that has declared war on the most vulnerable among us, whether the poor, the disabled, refugees, immigrants, those struggling with illness, or those who identify as LGBTQ. And that’s just the short list.
To sit in America and say, “but this administration is great for Israel” is, at least to me, an abuse of the privilege of citizenship, taking the notion (and accusation) of dual loyalty to disgraceful new depths. At a time when our intelligence community is up in arms over a President and his enablers in Congress who see their fellow citizens and democratic institutions as opponents or worse, it is beyond contemptible for some in our community to offer instead praise and an embrace to those very same individuals.
I have never understood the thinking of those who cheer for what is good for Jerusalem, but bad for America, while carrying American passports and casting votes as American citizens. By that treasonous logic, we should be encouraging Russian-Americans to vote for what’s good for Putin (oh wait, they’ve probably already done that), and Chinese-Americans to vote for what is good for China. It is shameful for American Jews to put Israel’s needs above America’s. If you feel so strongly about Israel being your top priority as an American voter, there’s an easy solution: move to Israel, renounce your American citizenship, and vote as an Israeli.
As for me, I prioritize the country I live in, and try to vote for candidates whose professed policy agenda speaks to the values, needs and aspirations of the democratic society I am privileged to be a part of and raise my family in. And I consciously try to choose candidates whose policy positions best align with my Jewish values. No, none of those candidates has been perfect (and some have been deeply flawed), but up until now, I have had at least reasonable faith that each of them cared about the United States in ways that reflected a commitment to our core values, to our democratic institutions, to the rule of law, and to our fellow citizens. And none of them made me fear for the sanity of my country, or for its soul. None until now.