On the eve of this consequential election, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this has been an exhausting, concerning, and in many ways, a disheartening presidential campaign that has gone on too long. Next week or soon after, we will have a President-elect who may or may not have a mandate, and will likely be rejected by a large number of people in our nation. Regardless of who is elected, this could be a recipe for yet another four years of Washington grid-lock, hateful speech about the “other side,” and a further deterioration of civility in our political process. It could even accelerate the deterioration of our democracy overall, which needs to be a concern for every American. Or, it can be the beginning of a time of healing and coming together. The choice is ours.
This is the perfect moment to make our children aware of the state of our nation and to demonstrate how Jewish values can influence our choices and actions. I want to share with you some brief thoughts with the hope that they will help all of us navigate and feel comfortable having a similar, age appropriate, conversation with our children, grandchildren, and students about this important time in our lives.
Prayer is one avenue that can have an impact on our actions. For me, prayer is a daily reminder of my priorities and values, as well as, a daily call to action. I try to internalize the prayers so that they actually influence how I think, and more importantly, how I act. For instance, at Shabbat morning services, our congregation recites a Prayer for our Country, the United States, from the Siddur Sim Shalom. In part the prayer reads:
“May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.”
When I read this prayer I not only believe that this is the vision of an ethical, monotheistic God, I also believe that it requires each one of us to take action in order for the prayer to become reality. Over the past few months of this campaign, and even these past four years, the Prayer for our Country has resonated with me much more powerfully because of the tone of this particular campaign season, the state of our country, and the concerns it has raised.
The truth is, we can all do our part to help create a society, in America, where citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, where hatred and bigotry are banished, and where our democratic institutions are safeguarded. It takes the people – it takes us. After all, our government is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
You may also want to choose a Jewish Value to make connections between the election and what we value. For many, an obvious value is Tikkun Olam, Improving the World. At Schechter Bergen, we define Tikkun Olam as inspiring our students to pursue peace, compassion, freedom, and equality and to make a difference by doing acts of Tzedek (Justice) and Gemilut Hasadim (Loving Kindness). Another Jewish value that seems particularly relevant is Kehillah Kedosha (Sacred Community). In part, at Schechter Bergen we define Kehillah Kedosha as promoting positive, healthy relationships in an environment of mutual respect. Whether it is our school, synagogue, or our entire country, we can bring the “sacred” into our lives by constructing a society built on mutual respect that embraces the diversity of culture, religion, political affiliation, and thought.
I encourage parents, grandparents, and educators to have conversations with your children about how a prayer like The Prayer for our Country, or any number of our Jewish values, are relevant. Discuss together what you will do to help realize a vision for our country where all people are equal, and entitled to equal opportunities to pursue the ideals of the American dream.
Teach your children to take an active role in our democracy through the Jewish lens of our values. Making connections and engaging in specific reinforcing activities help our children’s learning to stick.
Talk specifically about the actions that can make a difference such as voting, encouraging family and friends to vote, and writing and calling our politicians to demand that they bring civility back to our democratic process. We can implore that they take action that will work towards improving the lives of all of our fellow citizens. If you have children at home, and depending on the age of your children, take them with you when you vote or deliver your ballet. Older children can make calls to relatives and friends to make sure that they voted and younger children can write letters with you. A talk like this, with your children, brings the “sacred” into what could be an otherwise mundane conversation, and reminds us that we are empowered to make a difference by how we choose to act and speak.