Three years ago, after observing how the American Jewish community separated into opposing camps over the deliberations surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Two years ago, after observing how American Jews openly decried each other as enemies in the run-up to the presidential election, I thought things certainly couldn’t get any worse.
Now, with the midterm elections behind us and looking ahead to the next presidential election just two years away, I’m tired of predicting. Things can get worse and, if we’re not careful, we risk finally — thousands of years after the Exodus, the destruction of both Temples, the Inquisition and the Holocaust — making good on the designs of all those who, as we recite in the Haggadah every Passover, “have risen up to destroy us.”
As big a problem as anti-Semitism is — and it is right at the top of issues we as individuals and as members of a community should be concerned about — far more dangerous in 2018 is the vehemence and downright loathing many of us display for our fellow Jews.
That our disagreements center primarily on political questions — issues that by their very nature are impermanent and whose standard-bearers in Washington, D.C., (or Harrisburg, City Hall, etc.) by definition embrace whatever they perceive to be the consensus of their base — makes it unconscionable that we have allowed ourselves to be deluded into thinking for the last several years that any election is an existential crisis. As the hardcore Republicans and Democrats among us have fixated on the ballot box, we’ve neglected to focus on the price of such unfettered partisanship.
How many lost friendships, forsaken shuls, ripped-up checks (if written at all) and canceled dates have become the detritus of the new political order? The problem isn’t that we have political opinions; it’s that too many of us have confused opinion for fact, theory for certainty.
And an ever-increasing number are using their ideas as battering rams with which to pound the supposed opposition into submission instead of acknowledging that any human idea — all the more so, a political one — is the product of a fallible mind.
I’m sorry to say that from my vantage point, we’ve lost the mutual respect that is demanded of us as human beings and Jews, and replaced it with sound bites and epithets.
What does the alternative look like?
Just ask Rabbi Motti Flikshtein, the program director at Chabad of Wilmington in Delaware who spoke to 5,600 people at last weekend’s banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. From the podium inside the basketball court-turned banquet hall at Rockland Community College, he told the story of a young boy named Matt, an aspiring rap artist and small-time criminal. Not sure of where he would end up, his parents took him to Lubavitch of Bucks County.
Matt’s first interaction at the center was a hug from Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein.
By his appearance and behavior — aspects of character far more tangible and consequential than political beliefs — Matt couldn’t have been more different than the rabbi. But to Weinstein, who doesn’t even remember the hug, the boy before him was just another Jew. At that most basic and yet so important of levels, they were the same.
The result? Matt eventually became a rabbi himself, started a family and moved to Wilmington, where he tries to make a difference in teenagers’ lives.
It would be ludicrous for someone’s right arm, assuming it had an independent will, to denigrate the left, or for the toe to secretly abhor the head. Take any limb out of the equation, and the body is inherently lacking.
And yet, that’s exactly what vast swaths of the American Jewish community have no problem doing, casting those with whom they disagree as either self-hating Jews, closet fascists or communists. With as much evidence as they can muster from the darkest reaches of social media, they write their neighbors — even family members — off as enemies.
Thank God we as a people are still here.
With the election behind us, what will we do to preserve our peoplehood?
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]