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A Pastoral Response to the 2016 Presidential Election

I have heard many of you say over the course of the past few days that this has felt like a period of mourning. When it comes to mourning, and what to do when you find yourself at a loss, the heart of our Jewish tradition is wise, knowing that it is hard for those who grieve to find joy. On Friday nights, the custom is that those in mourning wait outside of the sanctuary until after L’cha Dodi and only then do they join the congregation in prayer.

It would feel incongruous for me to begin our Shabbat service tonight without naming all of that: the despair and the cynicism, and the fact that for nearly half of this country, the outcome of our Election is actually a cause for celebration. We grieve out of fear for the unknown, we grieve the loss of a hopeful possibility for change— and as we know is true when we mourn the death of a loved one, we all grieve differently.

On Tuesday morning, I held Goldie on my hip, black pen in one hand, and said the words of blessing I have uttered so many times expressing my gratitude and awe at having reached such an auspicious moment: Sheheiyanu, v’kimanu v’higyanu lazman hazeh. Thank you God for giving me life, sustaining me, and allowing me to reach this awe-some moment in time.

Each syllable a celebration as I filled in the black bubble, and scooped Lola up on to my other hip to show her— look, we are voting for a new president. And for the first time, we get to vote for a woman.

“Lola do you know what vote means?”

“Yes! To choose”

Thank you, Daniel Tiger.

For the first time that day, I got a little teary. Since Tuesday night, my heart has been in my throat. Like many of you, I have nearly drowned myself in words, seeking solace and inspiration, comfort, and explanation from others. I went to bed on Tuesday night with tears in my eyes— which flowed even more freely when Goldie woke up at 2am, and as I fed her and rocked her back to sleep all I could think “how did we get here?” To borrow from another lesson in American history, we’ve gone from “history has it’s eyes on you” to “the world turned upside down”. The grief is real- whether it is over the loss of what could have been, or over the reality of what is yet to be, or some combination of the two. It’s been a week of shock and anger for most of us. It’s been a week during which I found myself dropping any lingering pretense of secrecy or veiling of my personal opinions of and reactions to the outcome of this election. Throughout the past year, I struggled to locate the invisible line of propriety as a rabbi in how I spoke about our country, our candidates, and my own beliefs.

In large part, I have felt that here in our community I am speaking into an echo chamber. If I am wrong, and you feel that I have failed you as a rabbi in making space for dissent, I am sorry. This sanctuary is a safe space, but comfort is not the same as willful ignorance. Tonight, more than ever, I am confident in the necessity for people of conscience to be honest and to be explicit about what we see unfolding in our country. If we do not speak these truths, we create a vacuum in our civil discourse, one that will be happily filled by someone else.

The despair that I feel is not sour grapes or simply because “my candidate” didn’t win. This despair is deeply rooted in the undeniable hatred, racism, misogyny, and the promise to turn back the clocks of history that our president-elect spouted throughout his campaign. My despair is in the newly empowered voices of anti-Semitism that have been galvanized by the dog whistling of our president-elects’ campaign. I know there are many who in their call for unity have suggested that people are overreacting, and giving in to unfounded hysteria. One of the truisms that I cannot shake over these last few days is that when someone shows you who they are you should believe them. I very much wanted to speak to you tonight in our sacred space about the meaning of shattered glass: about what it would have meant to elect the first woman to the highest office in our land. I wrote a letter to my daughters on Tuesday afternoon describing the hope and excitement I felt that they would grow up never knowing a time when women couldn’t serve as President. Now, looking back, I see how blindly optimistic I was, and disconnected from the reality of the American body politic. This deep sense of collective shock is only further evidence of the chasm that exists in our country right now. I cannot begin to understand the desperation and sense of being forgotten that would lead to casting a vote for such moral bankruptcy.

This is real grief. And one thing I know about grief is that while it never totally goes away, it does change in character.

Many of us are still in the despair. Some of us have moved on to denial, or anger. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of normative reactions to such a cataclysmic shift in the reality of our world, this much I know is true: it will get “better”.

I know this, because there are some things that no election can change- that not even the president-elect can change no matter how hard he tries. And that truth, is this:

We can choose love.

We can love our children, and teach them that men do not simply grab women by right of nature, and that women are valuable, powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve their dreams.[1]

We can love our friends and neighbors who are people of color, and stand by them when they are threatened.

We can love our friends and neighbors who wear kippot, or hijabs, or any other religious garb, and sit with them in solidarity.

We can love people with disabilities and amplify and advocate for their needs.

We can love immigrants and refugees and help them to find resources.

We can love veterans, and advocate for their rights.

We can love our family members and friends who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered or Queer, and make sure they know we see them, and won’t let anyone tell them they are less than whole. We can protect their marriages and their children.

We can love each other by speaking out against hate speech whenever, and as soon as we hear it.

We can love each other, by learning to ask new questions and by listening to the answers we hear.

It’s ok if we still need a moment or two to catch our breath- to allow our heads to catch up to our hearts as we navigate this new reality.

But we can never stop choosing love.

Love is the only thing that will take us from grief to action. Love is the only thing that keeps us human.

In this week’s Torah portion, Avram (not yet Abraham) receives a Divine one-way ticket into the unknown. Lech L’cha is in many ways the human story: of being propelled forward, of having no choice but to go— and to trust in God that the path will unfold before him in safety and blessing. God speaks to Avram and in one sentence, pulls the rug out from under him: go forth. Leave your home, your birthplace, your parent’s home- and go to this other land that I will show you, and there- you will be a blessing. This is our Lech L’cha moment.

My hope is that we can take these precious hours of Shabbat to lovingly and gently right ourselves back to standing. That we can breathe in the rest and quiet of Shabbat— and perhaps take it as a break from the noise and haste, to carve out a quieter space for ourselves.

I don’t pretend to know the way forward, but one thing I can promise you is that the road ahead will be better traveled in community- together with each other.

Jewish tradition permits us to separate our grief from joy but it also teaches us that we can literally turn our mourning into dancing. The custom teaches that at the end of L’cha dodi, the congregation rises and after singing “Boi Kallah”— they look to the mourners and welcoming them in they say “HaMakom Yinachem Etchem”- May God comfort you.

Tonight, I want to invite you to enter now into the sanctuary as you are and to find your way into Shabbat with song, with prayer, with silence- and with each other.

HaMakom Yinachem Etchem— May God comfort each of you,

V’anachnu n’nachem zeh et zeh, and may we comfort one another.

[1] HRC Concession Speech, 11/10/16


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