In March of 1979, I sat in the backroom of the SDT House, 1405 Hill Street in Ann Arbor, and watched Jewish/Arab/Zionist/World history being made as President Jimmy Carter brought together Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat. Finally, the biblical enemies, the Israelites and the Egyptians, were at peace. Thirty-seven years later, here in Northampton, MA, in a dorm on the campus of Smith College that becomes the summer home of the Western Wind Workshops, Bill and I watched the powerful final night of the Democratic National Convention. Who could have known that a “Gold Star Family”, the Khans, would be the ones to finally have the moral courage to speak truth not just to power, but to their Muslim community. As I watched Khizr and Ghazala celebrate our democracy in the context of the sacrifice of their son, I knew it was a historic moment. Little did I know that this would be yet another moment when Donald Trump rocks the political world as we know it.
As an American/Zionist/Jewish woman (is this identity politics?), I was mesmerized by the Khans’ speech and am heartened by the ensuing public discourse. That Donald Trump retreats to his preferred mode of communication — TWEETING — to insult these brave, courageous American Muslims and that Republican leadership is finally responding to the Trump outrage, to some degree, is a snapshot of this absurd political season. Through my “Donald is a Demagogue ” lens, I couldn’t help but see the contrast between the courage of this Muslim American family in 2016 and the lack of courage of Jewish American families during the darkest days of the Holocaust in the 1940’s. I know that I am not the only American Jewish activist who knew that we were witnessing bravery and courage from a cousin experiencing the familiar tension of a dual identity. We American Jews are very well schooled in managing our dual identities, aren’t we?
Those who know me know that one of the interesting facts of my personal life is that this vocal Jewish feminist activist has two daughters who have made their choice to follow a very traditional Jewish path. The notions of modesty are woven into the lifestyle choices of my girls. Consequently, I appreciated the stoic beauty of Ghazala’s blue headscarf; and wondered to myself if she was forbidden by her view of Islam from speaking or chose not to speak. She has answered that question. Despite her silence on stage, I saw in her eyes the perpetual grief of a mother who has lost a child to war. I have seen those eyes in Israel. To see an American Muslim cousin share it so publicly was a statement of patriotism that was nothing short of historic.
Soon I will get on my bicycle and ride down to Sage Hall and begin the next session of Western Wind Workshops. During these first days of August and last days of Tammuz, I am glad to be immersing myself in the eternal magic of a capella music. Those who know me know that my father Merle was the son of Harry, the Levite. That makes me a Levite too, which explains my passion for sacred singing. In these Days of the Demagogue, when our democracy is under attack, I am grateful that I can raise my voice simply to make beautiful music with a diverse group of people from across the United States.
While I may check out of the political scene for the week, the reminders of Trump and his degradation of our democracy are never far. How can it be when one of the joys of Northampton is the tweet and the twitter of the birds? Again, I maintain that the American political system is too sacred a gift to reduce our political discourse to the bare minimum of social media. For American Jews, who have been raised on the power of words, guided by both our Tanach and our American Constitution, we must speak up and speak out against Donald Trump.
If our cousins the Khans can do so on prime time TV, certainly we American Jews can do so in all the print, broadcast and social media outlets we have at our disposal today. The Gold Star families of the United States, as well as all decent people of the world, demand nothing less of us, the Children of Israel, we who are the victims of the German failure of morality that infested their society when a demagogue assumed power. Now more than ever before, in this free society that we are blessed to be a part of, we must play the role of the modern day prophet and call out the obvious injustice that is the essence of Donald Trump, before it is too late. If we don’t, history will wonder how it is that the American Jewish community failed to speak up when a representative of the American Muslim community spoke so loudly. To the Khans — I thank you for the sacrifice of your beloved son Humayun and I thank you for your moral courage in calling out the Demagogue in our midst.