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We Have to Stand Up--Post-election sermon, Nov. 11, 2016

posted Nov 14, 2016, 11:51 AM by Heidi Hoover   [ updated Nov 14, 2016, 11:51 AM by Michael Rose ]

I have to admit that I didn’t expect the outcome of this week’s election. I didn’t believe that together with the people who are racist, misogynist, xenophobic, and homophobic in this country, there would be enough people who were unhappy enough with Hillary Clinton or the Democratic party or the status quo to overlook all of Donald Trump’s attitudes and vote for him. I don’t believe that all of Trump’s supporters are in agreement with all the hateful, horrible things he’s said. I certainly don’t believe that those in this congregation who support Trump are in agreement with all the things he’s said. I have heard in our community and on the news people talking about feeling betrayed by Clinton—the Clinton Foundation pledged to help after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, but the money did not make the difference Haiti needed; Hillary Clinton supported policies that helped lead to mass incarceration of young men of color. These and other issues may be reasons that good people were able to overlook Trump’s attitudes during the campaign.

Not everyone can overlook what Trump has said, though. My daughter Shoshi goes to a diverse middle school with kids of color and Muslim kids. Those kids are afraid. Last spring I went to her school to watch the students perform plays they had written about issues important to them. I watched an 11-year-old Hispanic boy say in his play that Donald Trump wants to make his family leave the country. That was heartbreaking. How must that boy feel today?

A friend of mine who is black, and married to an Austrian man who is scarred by the fact that his parents were ardent Nazis, already felt afraid of the police because of all the police killings of unarmed black people. She feels that anyone who could vote for Trump, overlooking his racism, is rejecting her too.

Many women who have been sexually assaulted, and statistics tell us that one in four women have, are having that trauma dredged up again by the fact that Donald Trump, a man who casually bragged about sexually assaulting women, has been elected. They think his election is a statement that what happened to them doesn’t matter.

All of us in this congregation and in this country who don’t consider ourselves racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and don’t want to be those things, whether we voted for Trump or Clinton or a third-party candidate or not at all, have a very big job ahead of us.

Like it or not, the election of Donald Trump has, for the bigots, misogynists, and xenophobes in our county, legitimized their beliefs. Donald Trump did not reject the endorsement of the notorious white supremacist David Duke. He said he didn’t know Duke, but didn’t condemn him. On election night, Duke tweeted: “This is one of the most exciting nights of my life -> make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!” and “Donald J. Trump now has the chance to become one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived - we have the moral high ground, 100%!” The next day, he tweeted: “The vast majority of Blacks, Jews and Hispanics - hate White Christian men so much -> they were willing to destroy this nation.” This is a prominent white supremacist, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, whom Donald Trump did not disavow. David Duke thinks Donald Trump is on his side. As a Jew, and as a person who cares about other people, this bothers me a lot.

A rabbi I know who is also a judge went to work at the courthouse in White Plains, NY the day after the election to find the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. defaced with antisemitic graffiti, and law enforcement in the courthouse investigating reports of white powder in the building. I know this isn’t new, and maybe it would have happened regardless of who was elected. It may take a while before we know to what extent hate crimes increase, but there are already reports of people being attacked and Trump’s name being invoked during the crime. People who hate are feeling validated to act on their hate. (http://qz.com/833607/us-election-a-rash-of-racist-attacks-have-broken-out-in-the-us-after-donald-trumps-victory/?utm_source=qzfb)

In Pirkei Avot, the Wisdom of the Sages, we read: “Rabbi Tarfon said: You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to abandon it.” In the book of Deuteronomy, in parashat Shoftim, we read: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Antisemitism is not justice.

Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and homophobia is not justice.

Racism is not justice.

Xenophobia is not justice.

Misogyny is not justice.

I have spoken about all of these issues from this bimah before. Now more than ever, it is our responsibility to stand up for justice. That is the task we may not abandon, though we probably will not be able to complete it. No matter who we voted for, or what we were able to overlook to cast our vote, it is our obligation to stand against the injustice that Donald Trump, through his words in his campaign, has legitimized for the people in our country who are hateful. Again, not all Trump supporters are like that, and the ones who aren’t, together with the rest of us, must show it by being vocal and unequivocal in our opposition to discrimination and hate.

When we talk about antisemitism, it is obviously something that directly affects us as a Jewish community. But don’t think that homophobia, racism, xenophobia and misogyny aren’t Jewish issues, and aren’t issues in our congregation. We have Jewish LGBT families in our congregation who have to wonder now if their marriages will continue to be recognized. We have Jewish people of color in our congregation who already face racism and discrimination, and may be fearing an increase. We have Jewish immigrants in our congregation, including children who were adopted internationally. We have Jewish congregants who have close Muslim relatives, who fear for their safety. And of course we have women in our congregation, some of whom have been sexually assaulted, all of whom have been denigrated at one time or another for their gender, and many of whom feel personally degraded by Donald Trump’s attitude toward women.

If you don’t think it’s important to stand up for people outside the Jewish community, then stand up for the Jews who are LGBTQ+, of color, immigrant, and/or female.

There are lots of ways to do it. Join organizations that work against discrimination and hate. Donate to causes that support those who experience discrimination. Call or write to our elected officials. Blog. Sign petitions. Go to protests. No one has to do all of it, but we must all do something to stand against hate and for justice.

Last week I said that we must remember that everyone—Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the supporters of each of them—is made in God’s image, even though that’s very difficult, even when we hate what some of them stand for. Remembering everyone’s basic humanity, that each person is somehow made in God’s image, does not mean that we don’t condemn injustice in the strongest terms. But we must not dehumanize those who hold and express hateful, unjust ideas and those who act on those ideas, even if they are dehumanizing us. If we can, we must engage them as humans.

In the Talmud, there is a story of Rabbi Meir, one of the great rabbis. Rabbi Meir was having problems with people harassing him in his neighborhood. He was very angry and upset, and decided he would pray for them to die. His wife, Beruriah, who was also a scholar, rebuked him, quoting Psalm 104:35: “Let sins be uprooted from the earth, and the wicked will be no more.” It says “sins,” not “sinners,” she said. You should not pray that these people will die, but that they will repent and change their ways. Then “the wicked will be no more.” Rabbi Meir acknowledged that she was right. That’s seeing the basic humanity, seeing God’s image, even in people who are acting out of hate.

This week’s Torah portion, Lech l’cha, is the one in which God tells Avram to leave his home, his father’s house, and his homeland to go to the place God will show him. As we read earlier, Avram takes his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and “the people they had acquired in Haran.” Literally, it’s “the people they had made in Haran.” It doesn’t say “servants” or “employees.” The midrash tells us that the rabbis say that these were people Avram and Sarai had converted to Judaism—well, to their form of monotheism, since there wasn’t Judaism yet, really. What that means, basically, is that people who were of the same mind, who shared the same beliefs as Avram and Sarai, went with them.

Did they know where they were going? Not at first. God says, “Go to the land I will show you.” At the outset of the journey, they don’t know where they will end up.

We are in a similar position. In electing Donald Trump, our country has started a journey and we don’t know where we will end up. The truth is, that is always the case. Sometimes we think we know what the destination is that we’re heading toward, but we don’t know what life will bring and how that will change where we end up. That’s unsettling, sometimes frightening, but we aren’t alone. Avram and Sarai were not alone. With them were people who believed what they believed, and they set out on that journey with determination, faith, and trust that they would reach the land and it would be good, as God promised.

Earlier this evening we repeated an interpretive translation of one of the blessings that surrounds the Sh’ma, our declaration of the oneness of God. It invokes another journey, the journey that led to the formation of the Jewish people:

Standing on the parted shores of history
we still believe what we were taught
before ever we stood at Sinai's foot;
that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place, a promised land;
that the winding way to that promise
passes through the wilderness.
That there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands, marching
together.

This is what I’m calling on all of us who are for justice and against hate to do: Join hands. March together. Support each other. Protect the vulnerable. Fight for the human rights of every person. Stand up and reject hateful words and actions, in whatever way you choose to do it. This week was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of the pogrom in Germany November 9, 1938, when Jewish businesses were destroyed, vandalized, looted, burned. We know too well what happens when hate is legitimized and groups of people are scapegoated. We cannot be silent.

The blessing we read, and that I just read again, leads into the singing of Micha Mocha. Micha Mocha is the triumphant, joyous song that the Israelites sing upon safely crossing through the Reed Sea to escape the Egyptians. Let us find hope in our being together on this journey, and let us look toward the day when hate is defeated and we too can burst into joyous song and dance. Amen and Shabbat shalom.

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