November 9, 2016/ 8 Heshvan 5777
After the Election
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack
For those who have been asking, what should I say to my children, how will you respond to the members of your congregation-our Canadian friends who ask how could this have happened, how is this possible, what will we do. This is my response:
My father was a proud American. The son of immigrant parents who had come to America in the early part of the 20th century in search of a better life free of the persecutions and pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe, he raised us with the values of democracy. He was a student of history, and later a teacher of history, who believed in the value of public education and the ideals that extend civil rights, freedoms and justice to every American. On Flag Day and the 4th of July, I have strong memories of him putting out our American flag in its holder on the front of our house, and being carried on his shoulders to watch the parades. He instilled in my sisters and me the importance of voting, of civic engagement, and in dialogue with those whom we might not agree with. He taught us to believe in the values and ideals of American democracy and to stand up for the rights of those who did not have a voice.
My mother is a proud American. Her grandparents were immigrants who also came seeking a better life, a place where they would enjoy freedom and as Jews, not fear for their lives because they were a minority, different, other. She, like my father, believes in the value of public education and civic engagement and dialogue. My parents spent their careers teaching in the public education system and devoted their lives to helping children and families from all walks of life, ethnicities, cultures, religions, socio-economic status, political leanings, and beliefs. And they raised me and my sisters in a community that shares those values.
This morning is a mix of emotions. Many political commentators are writing opinions about what is broken in America, and how the political system delivered last night’s election results. I will leave it to them to analyze. We must realize that there is a part of America that is elated by last night’s election results. We have to try and understand and make sense of what that means. Most Americans that I know, however, are worried, embarrassed, angry, hurt, and fearful.
As Jews we know all too well the lessons of history and what happens when hate and fear is allowed to prevail. Last night we were expecting the shattering of a glass ceiling, to see the first woman in US history elected to the presidency. Today, November 9th , is the anniversary of another shattering of glass, Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. 78 years ago in Nazi Germany and Austria after years of Hitler's campaign against Jewish citizens, crowds and soldiers burned synagogues and broke into Jewish houses and stores, attacking and murdering Jews. German authorities looked on without intervening. The tide had turned.
Some of my friends’ children are asking their parents this morning “what will happen to my friends who came here from Mexico, who are Muslim immigrants, who have brown skin”? We are fearful of what will happen to the great strides that were made for the protection of LGBTQ Americans, for marriage equality, for the rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies, for civil rights and religious freedoms.
I understand that fear. That fear runs deep - My mother always taught us that it was important to always have a valid passport. I’d like to think it was because her mother, who came through the Great Depression as a child, enjoyed clipping articles from National Geographic and dreaming of the places she wanted to visit, something she was fortunate to enjoy in her later years. I’d like to think that. But I know that it is about something deeper. It is not because we did not have a comfortable life, not because there was anything rationally known to fear. But “just in case.” That is not to say that I think most liberal Americans should leave the country, even as I know that many liberal Americans were/are considering options to leave. Last night as we watched the election returns from our home in Canada, the immigration Canada website crashed from all of the traffic.
To the contrary, I believe that we cannot allow fear and anxiety to guide us. To be sure, this election will have great effect on the world. But we must also remember that America is still a democracy. It is a democracy that has at its center a system of checks and balances built into it. We must work together to hold back the tide of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and homophobia. We must recommit ourselves to protect those who are most marginalized and most at risk. We have to strive together to uphold decency, fairness, moderation, compromise and the rule of law. We have to work harder to encourage multiculturalism and diversity, to diversify and support our own networks of friends, to help those less fortunate, to speak up when we hear people speaking bigotry and untruths, and to be vigilant.
Now more than ever we need the teachings of our prophetic tradition, reminding us: “Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) and “You have been told what is good, And what Adonai requires of you: Only to do justice; to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) These same teachings were eloquently phrased in the inspiring words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”