Election Thoughts

Dear Friends,

Here are five thoughts on yesterday’s election:



The separation of church and state is sacred in American civil religion. I believe in this creed, and I bet you do, too. This means religious teachings must be beyond the government’s control. And it also means that people who hold divergent political views must be able to share religious and spiritual homes. Jews should not be excluded from Torah or marginalized from Am Israel because of their secular political convictions. And God isn’t a registered Democrat or Republican (and neither Labor nor Likud).

For this reason, I hesitate before writing to our kahal in the voice I have seen many other rabbis take today: proclaiming that we are “all” “mourning,” “shuddering” and “devastated” by Donald Trump’s victory. That’s appropriate language for op-ed writers, but not rabbis. Certainly, many – maybe most – of our community feel that way. Clinton received 86 percent of the vote in Manhattan, so I can only assume she received a comparable proportion in AC.

But even if 90 percent were with her and only 10 percent went for him, that still means that more than 50 AC households supported Donald Trump. You may disagree with their choice with every fiber of your being, but they deserve not to be ridiculed or anathematized from their shul, where they have a home for studying Torah, davening, and doing mitzvot.



As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Scratch deeply enough, and I fear you’ll find that most of us don’t really like democracy. Secretly, many of us would favor enlightened dictatorship, if only we get to decide.

Deep down, many believe that democracy means that the people have the right to decide correctly. Should they decide wrong, that can only mean that they are intellectually incapable or morally perverse. My opponents must be either stupid or wicked.

But the true premise of democracy is that all citizens are presumed to act from good motives, trying to build a society that conforms to their values and interests, just as I do. Even my opponents have something to contribute. Only this belief will enable deeply divided Americans to move forward and reconcile.

When you cannot understand how other people could conceivably think as they do, then, as Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” On the Upper West Side, we live mostly in a bright blue bubble, and others in a fire engine red one. We must break free of our limitations and come to understand our fellow Americans, or it will be 1860 all over again, it will be hard to see how the Union endures.

In the meantime, while many in our community are in shock, we must endorse Hillary’s wise and gracious concession speech: Trump won – at least by the Electoral College rules, if not exactly the popular vote (basically tied, infinitesimal edge to HRC) – and if we believe in democracy, then “we owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”



No matter how they voted, all Americans should be ashamed of the mean-spiritedness of our election campaign season. Name-calling, insults, nastiness, innuendo, fascist rhetoric, occasional violence and threats of more. It has been a disgrace.

I spoke about this theme on Rosh HaShanah, day 1. Typically, I speak from notes, not a fully prepared text. Then after the holidays, best intentions aside, I never get around to turning those notes into a full presentation that anyone else could read.

This year, I wanted to give you the text of this talk, which we have now posted on the shul’s website. I welcome your responses.



This grim presidential season has displayed a tone of extreme ungenerous suspicion toward immigrants and ethnic minorities.

I don’t know whether Donald Trump is personally a racist, misogynist and anti-Semite, but the nicest possible interpretation is that he is willing to cynically use dog whistles and coded rhetoric to attract support from nativists, white nationalists, and others who represent America at its worst.

In his acceptance speech, Trump said the right things about working to represent all Americans. An exceptionally urgent task of our religious community is to hold him to it. And even if President Trump fails to do so, it is on us to remind him and ourselves that Americans really are a people of open doors, minds, and hearts; where immigrants, refugees, and people of color have their full stake in our society.



To those in the kahal who are in shock and despair, let me remind you: the world did not end this week. Life goes on. Jewish life goes on. We’ll begin Shabbat on Friday night and then morning minyan again on Sunday and go to work again Monday.

“America, you great unfinished symphony,” [“Hamilton”] you’re not collapsing into anarchy. We’re still a long way from martial law or other dystopian nightmares.

America is up to this challenge. We will endure and prevail. We will maintain the values and virtues that make this country worth saving in the first place. But we’ll have to do so with acute sensitivity to the risk that communities will be pit against each other in class-, social-, ethnic-, and religious-conflict. A noble America will resist that divisiveness and find togetherness. So, whatever your views, please take one or both the following occasions to gather with friends, neighbors, and people you don’t know yet, to talk and reflect about the week’s events.

On Friday night – now at 5:30pm, in standard time – we’ll follow Kabbalat Shabbat services with a wine-and-cheese oneg to create time to talk about our responses to the events. We’ve invited members of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, our neighbors on Amsterdam Avenue, to attend and take part in our conversation.

And they’ve invited us to join them on Sunday morning, after their 10am services for discussion from 11:30am to about 12:15pm, for the same. The Rev. Kate Flexer of St. Michael’s and I think this is will be an exciting and interesting opportunity for us to get to know our neighbors better, and build connections that will help us meet the coming years.

Hope to see you there.