The Colin Kapernick Syndrome: Mixing Prayer and Politics

I have been a member of a modern Orthodox synagogue my entire life. As a previous officer and president, I have observed that there is hypocrisy and conflict when we try to mix prayer and politics. Like oil and vinegar, it does not work.

Over the years, some synagogues have added various prayers for the State of Israel, for missing soldiers or for the United States government and other synagogues have refused to make any additions to the service.

Over the past 15 years there has been a consistency in our synagogue with saying a prayer for the Israeli government where the words “this is the beginning of the redemption” are chanted. We also say a prayer for missing Israeli soldiers, the United States government, as well as a few more relatively recent new prayers.

There are politics and theology over the phrase “beginning of the redemption”. Far be it for me to know whether this is the beginning of any redemption, but I can clearly have a civil conversation with educated and knowledgeable people about that issue.

We can also debate whether to say the prayer for the State of Israel without that phrase, or to amend the phrase with words like we “hope that it is the beginning of the redemption”, but even then, some rabbinical authorities have views of never adding any new prayer to the prayer service.
We can come to different conclusions based upon religious observances and have a discussion in a respectful and thoughtful manner, and in the end we could agree to disagree and we will decide to pray at a synagogue of our choosing based upon specific prayers that are or are not recited.
I suppose, if we really believe that prayer can work and can “tap into” and perhaps influence our Creator, why not add specific prayers, either formally or on a personal level? But again, that is a separate conversation and debate

Before the prayer for the state of Israel, it is our custom is to recite the prayer for the United States government and its officers.

Now, more than ever, after this past election, this prayer has taken on political and emotional reactions.

On a personal level, I am more conservative than liberal but I have voted on each side of the aisle over the past 35 years, and I try to support the candidates that I think are best suited for the position whether they are democrat or republican.

Over the past eight years I have stood and said the prayer for the United States government and its officers even though I did not support many of Barack Obama’s policies.

Even when he supported the 1967 borders, or pushed forward the Iranian nuclear deal I still stood during the service for the prayer for the United States government and its officers.

That was not because I thought that Barack Obama’s policies were supporting Israel, but out of respect for our synagogue and its customs.

I did raise the question about whether one should say a prayer for a governmental leader that might be harming the Jewish Homeland or the Jewish People, and I was told that we must pray that our leaders will be “given the vision and insight to make the correct decisions to protect the United States and also all of its allies including the State of Israel.” Even when it appears that our leaders are not supporting us, we pray that they have a change of heart “.

So after the Iranian nuclear deal was signed I stood out of respect for our synagogue our leadership and our customs in the synagogue, and even if I quietly and silently questioned the words that were being said.

By attending the prayer service I felt a responsibility to all the members. Standing is the long-held custom in our synagogue. I don’t believe that a prayer service is the place to protest. My other option was to leave the synagogue inconspicuously before the time that prayer is recited or leave the synagogue forever and find a new place to worship.

If a house of worship has customs or supports various views that are counter to your beliefs, it is incumbent upon the individual, to find a place that is more in line with the individuals believe. That is why I could never understand why Barack Obama prayed at an institution represented by Jeremiah Wright views for 20 years. If a place of worship, prays or preaches various subjects antithetical to one’s belief, one should discuss it with the leadership, and if the answers are not acceptable then one should leave.

More recently a very small number of individual synagogue members specifically sit down, as a public protest before the prayer for the United States Government, to protest the presidency of Donald Trump. They sit down for the prayer for the United States government and its officers as a public reprimand and as a public show of contempt for the present government. It is obvious that they sit specifically at this time, and they specifically stand for the prayer for the State of Israel.That type of public protest should be held outside in a public place but has no place in the synagogue or in a house of worship. Even though in our synagogue it is only one or two individuals, I have heard this goes on in other synagogues as well. Our Rabbi has publicly spoken against this behavior. In my opinion, if you stay inside, stand and respect the customs of your synagogue. Colin Kapernick started out as only one of hundreds of NFL players.

I find it quite interesting that for eight years I did not see a single member of the synagogue sitting purposefully during the prayer for the United States government and what he or she does under their breath or in their mind during that prayer is up to each individual but to blatantly show such anger and hatred during the prayer service in is indefensible and inappropriate.
Those individuals should not publicly take a political position during a prayer service. The rabbi and board members of the synagogues should not allow that to happen and those people should be reprimanded privately. They are also free to find another synagogue.

About the Author
Barry Zisholtz grew up in Cedarhurst New York and attended Jewish Day School through High School. He then went to college at the University of Michigan and majored in Zoology and Hebrew literature. He then attended medical school at New York Medical College and did his residency in urology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Barry is married with four children and after his residency they moved to Atlanta Georgia where they have been for the last 29 years. He has been very active over the years and in the community both in the synagogue in the day schools and in the high school.