The journey continues…

Over the past several days, I have felt sadness, anger, and disbelief. I feel lucky to live in a town, and be part of a synagogue, with such shared values, but in a democracy there is always a winner or a loser. We have much work to do to repair a country that is so divided and so broken. My concern was not – and never about – repairing the divide. That division exists in a two party system.

What was hard for me, and continues to be hard for me, is the tone and rhetoric. That is why I stood up time and time again condemning such hate speech. And now a candidate who yes ran on change, and jobs, and the economy, but also on misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, and bigotry, won. A candidate seemed to bully all other candidates during the primaries and general election, calling them names, yelling out them, interrupting them, and won.

It was hardest to share this information with my children – they are still so young. My daughter was so excited to come into the voting booth with us – about the historic nature of this election. I was upset to share the results. We teach our children certain values, at home, in school, at synagogue and in our sacred spaces: about how to treat other people, those like you and those who are different than you, about loving your neighbor instead of hating the other, about respect. And it seems with the results of this election, I fear that electing a candidate whose campaign seemed to reflect the opposite of those values we teach our children condones hate.

I fear for so many – and I fear also as a Jew, what it means when a candidate who was endorsed by the KKK is elected President. There is real fear for many of us that the hateful rhetoric of this campaign will lead to hateful acts. This week, we also observed the 78th anniversary of Kristellnacht, the night of broken glass, a progrom when Nazis torched synagogues and Jewish homes, businesses, and schools, killing over a hundred. Kristellnacht was a turning point, when hate speech led to hateful acts.

I was also reminded this week of the profound words of George Washington, found in a 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, home of the country’s oldest Jewish house of worship. In it, he pledged that the “Government of the United States… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” I acknowledge my privilege as a white, straight, man and I promise to do my part, as an American, and as a human being, to ensure George Washington’s words ring true – that our government does not sanction bigotry or persecution.

So when I spoke to my children, I reminded them that this election does not change what we believe and the way we act. We must continue to be kind. We must continue to stand up for what is right, and stand up for others. A single election does not change the values we stand for. That is what our text and our tradition teach of us. We read at the beginning of Genesis 12 that Abram goes on a journey – traditionally understood as not knowing where he is going to end up, to a land that I will show you. But Abram’s journey was not a journey into the unknown. It was a journey in which they knew exactly where they were going because the text tells us that Abram’s father, Terach, also set out on this exact journey. We read in Genesis 11:31:

Terach took his son Abram, his grandson Lot… and his daughter-in-law Sarai… and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.”

So we learn really that Abram was recommitted to continuing the journey his father was already on. Terach set out on his journey, but stopped and settled and never continued. Maybe he was tired; maybe he despaired; maybe he gave up; maybe he was content with simply getting this far.

The disappointment some feel following this election is not just because a candidate won and a candidate lost. It is a fear – a fear that the progress this country has made, great progress forward towards justice and equal rights, progress that I believe our tradition celebrates as well, will stop. So for those disappointed, I say that the journey continues just as Abram continued Terach’s journey. We will continue on this journey determined to reach a destination of justice and equality. We will come together as a community, as a diverse people., and we will continue the American journey.

About the Author
Rabbi Olitzky serves as rabbi and spiritual leader at Congregation Beth El in South Orange, New Jersey. He received rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as an MA in Jewish Education from JTS’ William Davidson School of Education. He has been a leader and educator for Jewish youth since for over a decade and is dedicated to getting the Jewish community more heavily involved in issues of social justice.
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