Today, on Tisha B’Av, Jews across the world recite and relive an anguished liturgy of destruction. Beginning with the downfall of Jerusalem we remember ancient and recent devastation, recalling home after home across an exile spanning centuries and continents. But this is not only an act of memory: Tisha B’Av calls upon us to reflect on the fragility of our safety and on the political and social forces that shape our fate.
For as long as I can remember, these accounts of destruction elicited in me fears for the safety and future of present-day Jerusalem, for Israel and for Israelis. This year for the first time, these warnings also strike close to home, sounding the chords of the existential threat that Donald Trump and the forces that support him pose to the American Jewish community.
Trump’s rise has given hope to those who want to define ethnic and religious minorities – including, but not only, Jews – as less than fully American, even anti-American. The vile anti semitism of tweets like “Don’t trigger Mr Trump (((Rosenberg))) It might cause him to fire up the ovens#OvenWorthy” is nothing new. But the the creation of a web-platform to identify, track, and harass Jews on the internet is unprecedented. That the enemies of the Jewish community and Jews have confidently embraced a major party’s nominee for president is not only new, it is terrifying. We – and our fellow minorities – are faced with a threat to the foundation of the lives, communities, and institutions we have built here.
My fear at Trump’s ascendance is not the product of my generally progressive politics. It is my normally dormant conservative sensibilities that are most active now — my elemental fear at what I, my family, and my community stand to lose if Trump is given the power to fulfill his threats. In one of life’s great ironies, I first came to recognize just those sensibilities through Newt Gingrich’s moving contribution to NPR’s This I Believe a decade ago. Because of its relevance and poignancy, Ii’m including Gingrich’s essay in full below:
I believe that the world is inherently a very dangerous place, and that things that are now very good can go bad very quickly.
I stood recently at Checkpoint Charlie and I saw where the Berlin Wall had once been, where millions had lived in slavery only 20 years ago and I realized that it could happen again. I’ve stood at Auschwitz, where millions were massacred. Then I read about in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying in the Sudan.
I watch the bombings in Baghdad and I know they could be happening in Atlanta or in Washington. I look at civilizations that have collapsed: Rome, Greece, China, the Aztecs, the Mayas. And then I look around at our pretensions and our beliefs — that we are somehow permanent — and I am reminded that it is the quality of leaders, the courage of a people, the ability to solve problems that enables us to continue for one more year, and then one more year, until our children and our grandchildren have had this freedom, this safety, this health and this prosperity.
I learned this belief from my stepfather, a career soldier who served America in the second World War, in Korea and in Vietnam. When I was a child, we lived in France — a France that was still suffering from World War II bomb damage; a France that still had amputees from the first World War and special seats on the subway for those who had been wounded in the first and second World Wars; a France that was fighting a war in Algiers; a France that had 100 percent inflation.
We went to the battlefield of Verdun, the greatest battle of the first World War. We stayed with a friend of my father’s who had been drafted, sent to the Philippines, served in the Bataan Death March and spoke of three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp.
And suddenly, as a young man, I realized this is all real: The gap between our civilization, our prosperity, our freedoms and all of those things is the quality of our leaders, the courage of our people, the willingness to face facts and the willingness to work for solutions — solutions to energy, solutions to the environment, solutions to the economy, solutions to education and solutions to national security. We have real challenges, we have a wonderful country. We need to keep it, and to keep it we’re going to have to learn these kinds of lessons.
That’s what I believe.
I leave it to Mr. Gingrich to reconcile these words with his support for Donald Trump.
Fulfilling today’s obligation of mourning requires taking to heart a simple, awful truth: Jerusalems come and go, they flourish and are destroyed. They are as fragile as they are sacred.
When Jerusalem was destroyed for a second time in the year 70, our Rabbis realized that the memory hadn’t been enough. They had seen history tragically repeat itself, and they refused to blame others. Rather, they offered a simple and haunting diagnosis of the social malady that had doomed their Jerusalem: “unjustified hatred”. A malignant, antagonizing force had risen up in their midst, set people against one another, blinding them to their shared purposes, needs, and strengths.
On this day of mourning in this season of decision, let us pray and work to ensure that George Washington’s promise to America’s Jews remain always true: “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Jason Rubenstein is Dean of Students at Yeshivat Hadar, where he also teaches Talmud and Jewish thought. All opinions expressed here are his own.