The Big Tent

I wrote a poem yesterday and apparently it relaxed me so much I fell into a nap, which I rarely take. It figures the one afternoon I rest, a terrible drama unfolded on social media between two literary authors I’ve had keen interest in over the course of my life. So, I didn’t see it. From what I gather, I was spared. But it fits into a puzzle I’ve been mulling over for some time, certainly in the last month.

The one individual is a politically right-wing ideologue, outspoken in her views. The other tends to be more open to centrist-progressive politics and advocates for causes close to her heart. Both would be seen as groundbreaking and even feminist in their literary endeavors. Both are important to their Jewish and secular audiences. But their politics differ. Herein lies the great discord so many of us have experienced in our own lives, and within the Jewish community.

This points to a dilemna I felt in every election when I was ultra-Orthodox. Often, the narrative in this community is that only Israel is entitled to the land, the settlers are fulfilling a God-given imperative, all Muslims want to drive the Jews into the sea, and anyone who is not on board with these tenets is either woefully misguided, a self-hating Jew, or an anti-Semite. In effect, battle lines have been drawn. Many Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews assume that Republicans are more supportive of Israel than Democrats, according to the views just stated.

The problem for me as a feminist, is that Republicans overwhelmingly have an agenda that I consider to be anti-women. They are desperate to overturn Roe V. Wade, some even to the point where abortions would be illegal in cases of rape and incest or endangering the life of the mother. They want to cut funding for healthcare for women and children, penalize single parents via the tax code, criminalize miscarriages, and a host of other issues I consider vital to the well-being of women. VP-elect Pence’s policies are tremendously threatening. I’ve discussed before, I felt that I had to choose between Women or Israel.

On the center-left, is a view that the Palestinians are people, too, and that while they are also subject to anti-Israel propaganda, many really do want to peacefully co-exist. There is the notion that interfaith work and building bridges between Muslims and Jews is not foolish or dangerous to Israel, it is an effort guided by love for Israel. The Reform and Conservative movements prioritize the Jewish mission as being a light unto the nations. This is accomplished by demonstrating compassion and justice for all humankind, especially the downtrodden, and by fighting for equality in every guise.

Just as the center-left see Trump supporters as ignoring his blatant misogyny in action and deed, his racism and xenophobia, his stoking the fires of White Supremacists and anti-Semitism, the right wing see more progressive Jews as tolerating anti-Semitism from the far left. What we or I may see as a moderate view, they perceive as a serious threat to Israel.

Ultimately, I have chosen feminism as my priority I want to support an Israel — and an America — that takes down patriarchy. Many of my Orthodox and politically right wing friends feel that feminism is conditional and that Israel comes first. I suspect that many of us on both sides of this divide see our choices as a better expression of our Judaism.

I found this paradox to be ubiquitous. Women that were disgusted and frustrated by rabbinic leadership that ignored child abuse, domestic violence and misogyny in the Orthodox community and saw themselves as somewhat rebellious in context of their immediate community — these same women turned around and embraced Trump wholeheartedly, eagerly. I’ve been trying to understand this phenomenon. It’s more than blind devotion to Israel. It’s directly tied in with an ultimate acceptance and internalization of patriarchy.

An examination of patriarchy is pertinent at this juncture. The best stance — or spin — is that Orthodoxy does not view men and women as unequal. It’s frame of reference is that men and women have separate roles and to a greater or lesser degree, women do not have a responsibility in the public sphere. That would be men’s purview. The problem that this outlook ignores is there lies most of the power in this world. Even taking into account women’s great spiritual power, real life and death and quality of life decisions are controlled by men. Obviously, this is not the Reform, Conservative, or Progressive standpoint, which is that men and women, and any choice of gender identity, are completely equal in any forum.

So, when women support Trump, it seems like a craving for the world order they’ve been accustomed to, or perhaps, even to find a way to fit in again. The louder they clapped at Trump rallies, the more they reclaimed and affirmed their place in their community. Even though the amount of victim blaming necessary to support Trump doesn’t square with their actual experiences.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 women and girls have suffered rape and child sexual abuse. Most do not report. Many don’t acknowledge or seek therapy; they block it out. So when we ask ourselves how did so many women vote for Trump, in some of those statistics are women who are unfortunately well-practiced in denying male sex abuse. It’s a method of survival.

Many women who become Baal Teshuvah (choose Orthodoxy) are attracted to the religious life because it seems more genteel, modest. I worked in rock music for many years, but Jane Austen was my favorite novelist. The first few years that I was religious in Los Angeles, I felt like I was living a Sense and Sensibility life, but with an extra dash of glamor and Jewish mysticism.

When the religious world proved not to be the sanctuary many, including me, had hoped for, it was enormously difficult to reconcile. I stayed religious for a dozen more years after I divorced. It wasn’t one person that drove me away. Nor was their any one person that could persuade me to stay. It was my continuing search for truth and desire to live in a culture that was most consonant with my feminist values.

Sometimes, I still feel like I miss the best of that world, which for me, was the spiritual depth and philosophical discussions. There was a sense of warmth and support among the women. And there are people who devote their lives to mitzvahs, deeds of kindness.

What’s interesting, is that so many in the progressive left do the same thing. They devote their lives to doing good, to a higher calling that is not necessarily materialistic or conformist.

If there is common ground to be found, it starts with agreeing on definitions of kindness. Even in this, we are at odds.The issue in this election, in a nutshell, is that so many Jews could not countenance Trump’s profound cruelty.

When the Access Hollywood video was leaked, some Trump-supporter friends unfriended me — before I had even posted a word. It’s as if they knew the jig was up, and they had decided to double down. Having lost faith in many of their rabbinic leaders, they were clinging to Trump. I’m not saying God didn’t come first. But years of denial and excusing men’s misogyny served them well in looking aside from Trump’s deep-seated flaws.

My generation is the latter end of the Boomers. We are actually termed The Jones Generation, as in ‘keeping up with the Jones.’ According to author Jonathan Pontell, my generation is bitter that we have not been afforded the riches that the older boomers had. We crave more.

I see this reflected in the slavish admiration of Trump, whose only real claim to fame and achievement is having money. In no way is he known for doing good in the world. Next month, he’ll be sworn in as President of the United States, leader of the free world…that no longer feels as free as it did before.

I have a friend who works for Jewish Federation, who once described her view of their purpose. She told me they have a big tent, where everyone is welcome and equal, from the right to the left, across the political and religious spectrum. The world will be looking to us to signal our Jewish values.

We have challenging years ahead, where we must be determined to recognize each other’s strengths and our own foibles. It’s a hard process but this is the work that lies before us. No matter what has befallen us, we must still find a way to cherish and celebrate kindness and magnanimity.This is the conversation we should be having.

One of the writers yesterday chose this as her response:

The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.
–Tennessee Williams

Whether you are right, left or center, let these be your words, too.

About the Author
Dana is a Jewish feminist, writer and poet. She is passionate about her daughter, love, kindness, spirituality, the artist's voice, and speaking out for the vulnerable. She lives in Music City, Nashville, TN.
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