It is May 15, the 7th day of Iyar, several weeks into the counting of the Omer and it is SNOWING in Cleveland. The world is simply upside down. So upside down that one of the richest, most powerful American Jews is prepared to donate up to $100 million to Donald Trump for his Twitter-fueled, celebrity-infused, lie-based campaign for President of the United States.
That Donald Trump is a demagogue is not a matter of opinion but of fact. A demagogue is, by definition, “A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.” (American Heritage Dictionary) No matter which way one gets their news, the fact is that Donald Trump is basing his campaign on the fears and frustrations of Americans in this cold spring of 2016. After 7 years of the first black president in American history, those whose racism still roils their blood are now ready to turn their scorn to Muslim, Mexicans and those Others that Mr. Trump routinely demonizes. And because Sheldon Adelson is fearful of the leadership of Iran, he is willing to give his support and his money to a modern day demagogue. That one of the most powerful, influential and affluent American Jews is supporting a modern day demagogue, a man in the mold of Adolf Hitler, in the weeks after Pesach, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, is profoundly shameful.
Readers of my blog may recall that I write of sacred synchroncities — moments in time when events come together in a pattern that can only be termed Divine. My two weeks home in Cleveland have been filled with such moments. After a glorious Pesach at the Scottsdale Princess (thank you Presidential Kosher Holidays), I settled into Cleveland to present two concerts: on Yom HaShoah, the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble performed “We Are Still Here” at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah and, on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, I helped bring Israeli pop sensation Rita to Cleveland.
Both events were spectacular, in very different ways. I narrated, “We Are Still Here,” weaving in personal stories that we obtained from acclaimed Holocaust educator Dr. Leatrice Rabinsky. Dr. Rabinsky pioneered Holocaust education in the public schools as well as high school trips to Eastern Europe in the 1970s. One of her high school students, Rabbi Gary Robuck, originally from Cleveland but now living in Sydney, Australia, created Shaarey Tikvah’s Holocaust Education program, “Face to Face.” Because of “We Are Still Here,” I was in Cleveland when Gary’s mother, Rhoda, a dear friend of Dr. Rabinsky’s, passed away, and was able to be at the funeral and pay a shiva call to my dear friend and teacher who is living in Sydney.
As I reflect on the beautiful funeral and the heartfelt shiva visit, I invite Sheldon Adelson to reflect on the 6 million Jews killed by last century’s demagogue, who had no funerals or shiva houses. Or perhaps I should send him the CD of “We Are Still Here” — I am still having trouble sleeping after narrating numerous tales of terror and tears.
A week later, Rita performed in front of 1,500 Clevelanders (including a large number of Israelis and a delegation from the IDF) for Yom Ha’Atzmaut. It was a glorious celebration of the best Israel has to offer to the world. Because I helped fund the concert, I was still in Cleveland when I received the news that a very dear friend’s father passed away. While my friend made aliyah several decades ago, when the children were 13, 11 and 8, he and his wife, also my dear, dear friend, are from Cleveland. While we all hail from Northeast Ohio, our relationship is based on the many shared experiences we have from Jerusalem. Even though I have blood family in Israel, as my maternal Pop was born in Jerusalem, this Ohio family is my Israel family through shared experiences. My three children have a deep and personal connection to Israel because of our friendship with this special family. To be present in Cleveland for the burial of “Pa” was truly an honor and a privilege.
Pa, who has three grandchildren that served in the Israel Defense Forces, served in the United States Navy, enlisting on December 7, 1941. Born in Lodz, Poland, Pa’s father left Poland in the wake of pogroms early in the 20th century and sent for wife and 7-year-old son. It is documented that on the same day that Pa enlisted in the Navy, his grandfather in Lodz was killed by the Nazi’s. A proud American Jew until his final day, his love-filled funeral began with the silent and stately Naval ritual of folding the US flag on Pa’s coffin with much ceremony and then handing the flag to his widow.
It was a profound moment as I watched my country pay respect to Pa, who defeated Hitler, and whose grandchildren defended the country of my People, his People, his family, our family. While I understand Sheldon Adelson’s passionate defense of Israel at my core, I fail to understand how he has forgotten the most fundamental lessons of our recent history. Perhaps he needed to be at Pa’s funeral for a reminder of what can happen when a demagogue obtains power.
While I am eager to get on the road to return to New York City, with my new puppy Sammy, I felt compelled to share these thoughts as this US Presidential election, more than any in recent history, matters. That Donald Trump is going to be nominated in my beloved Cleveland is most disturbing. That any Jew is willing to compromise their core Jewish values and our collective Jewish memory for the sake of the Republican Party is most distressing. I write this piece today to appeal to the class of voters that I call the “Ambivalents,” those who dislike both Trump and Hillary Clinton. I am not writing to support Hillary Clinton. But I am writing to sound a very loud warning that Donald Trump is nothing short of the Demagogue of the Digital Age. While he is not threatening Jews, he is absolutely threatening Muslims, Mexicans and those Others that frankly don’t agree with him. Not to mention that he is a documented liar. To those who respond that Hillary is a liar as well, I suggest that you follow the non-partisan Politifact for fact checking.
To Sheldon Adelson and other Jews who are supporting Trump I simply say this — Remember, We were once slaves in Egypt. And then, in another time period, we became slaves in concentration camps. And then, we became a free people in our own land, supported by the most affluent and free Diaspora community in our history. And now, Jewish leaders are squandering that influence and affluence on Donald Trump. Shame on you Sheldon, Donald is a demagogue.