Thankful. Hopeful. Exhausted: How Jews are feeling and what they’re wishing for in Biden presidency
“Overjoyed,” said Steve Sheffey, who publishes a pro-Israel newsletter out of Chicago. “Exhausted,” offered Rabbi Avram Mlotek, co-founder of BASE Hillel, a pluralistic outreach organization. Leor Rosen, a senior at the University of Michigan who used to be president of the campus Hillel, picked “jittery.” Josh Hammer, opinion editor of Newsweek, chose “concern.”
“Dayenu,” was what the actress Mayim Bialik came up with. Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justic Shtiebl, also reached for the Hebrew.
“It feels like we are in one of those tentative, hopeful, fearful holding patterns,” she said. “The word ‘yirah,’ that is awe and fear, is really relevant to both my personal experience and what I’m witnessing on a communal level.”
These are some of the words Jews used to describe their emotions upon Joe Biden becoming president-elect. We asked Jewish thought leaders and readers across all spectrums to sum up their feelings in a single word and got a dictionary’s worth: relief, thankful, fearful, hopeful, tired, torn, anxious, thrilled, uneasy, relax, surprised, verklempt, better, grateful, optimistic, gruntled, safer, redeemed, drained, elated, roller-coaster, hungry, oy.
We asked what they’re hoping a Biden presidency will bring for the Jewish world — and for a Jewish takeaway or lesson learned from this most fraught of campaigns and elongated elections. And we asked what they were doing to mark the moment.
Jordan Berg Powers, a progressive organizer in Massachusetts, broke out a bottle of Manischewitz. Josh Hammer, the conservative Opinion Editor at Newsweek, was reminding friends it’s not over til it’s over. Lori Dinkin, 101, who escaped Nazi Germany and spent this campaign working to get out the vote, was definitely ready to celebrate. “I’m not allowed to drink,” she noted, “I think I’ll have a nice cookie.”
We’re continuing to reach out to interesting Jews of all ages, races, roles and political perspectives, and we also want to hear from our readers. Send your single-word summary of your feelings to [email protected], or add it to the mix on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Here are the highlights from our interviews so far:
Sam Yebri, founder, 30 Years After, a group that seeks to engage Persian Jews into Jewish life
I pray that President-elect Biden can heal our divided country. Jews in the United States, Israel, and throughout the world need a strong, healthy, and united America; our fractures give strength to those who traffic in hate.
To paraphrase the Prophet Jeremiah, we should all pray for our government “for with its peace, you will have peace.”
Rachel Sumekh, founder of swipehunger.org, which lets college students give their extra meal-plan dollars to peers who need it
Our people need to see diversity of thought as a source of strength, not a threat to our peoplehood. Simultaneously, we need to be more rigorous in determining what is fake news and stop sharing that inciting fake news on WhatsApp threads.
Jason Robert Brown, Broadway composer, lyricist, playwright
As with every other tunnel, I do feel like there will be light at the end of it. And if it’s announced that Biden has officially won, I think I’ll be able to walk a little faster through the tunnel, and hopefully by January 20, I can be tap dancing out of it.
I’ll be infinitely grateful if Biden should take office, but there is a much greater problem about the way that artists are perceived in this country. I think everyone is embarrassed by the idea that we are supposed to feel things. The idea that we’re supposed to have feelings as opposed to just being productive is somehow shameful. And people aren’t willing to admit the “shameful” truth that we need artists.
Josh Hammer, Opinion editor, Newsweek
In Pirkei Avot, our Sages teach us to be deliberate in judgment and patient in administering justice. I would urge my fellow Jews to do their best to channel such a sentiment as we endure what will continue to be a trying time for the republic. Deliberation in judgment would here be very helpful in ensuring that all sides feel they have had their fair hearing. Our constitutional republic only endures when it derives legitimacy from the people, who are ultimately sovereign.
I am urging my conservative lawyer friends to not give up the legal fights yet until every vote in every jurisdiction and precinct has been deemed legitimate, and every relevant Department of Justice probe has been launched. Only after that time will all sides feel comfortable accepting the outcome.
Eddie Chavez Calderon, a campaign organizer with Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social-justice group
I’m feeling pumped over here in Phoenix. The one word for me that has always stood out is resiliency and that’s what we’re seeing right now: the resiliency of our people. Regardless of the results we saw at the polls, resilience has always been the number one thing. This is a breath of fresh air.
Resilience to me is the fact that this DACA recipient can mobilize the Jewish community to send over 50,000 text messages, that this small Jewish community — we’re the only organization that leads the progressive, Orthodox vote — no matter the attacks we’re seeing on our communities, we’re still here, and it goes beyond the four years of this administration.
We understand that systems have been broken, that systems don’t work as they should, equitably, and so resiliency to me is that despite everything that hits our communities and dismantles our communities our spirit still shines bright.
Maayan Zik, 36, Co-founder of Ker a Velt, who helped organize Black Lives Matter protests in Orthodox communities
I’ve noticed we are all tearing each other down unnecessarily. How could we let a man or any man divide us in such a way when we are God’s people?
As it now seems that Biden will win, I hope that under his leadership, America will begin to focus on the UNITED part of United States of America. Unity, Achdus, is an important concept in Judaism and it is very clear that we as a community and especially as a nation have lot of work to do in this area that will probably not be solved in one Presidency. We need to learn to work as a team, appreciating and making grand efforts in understanding each other’s needs and differences and meeting each other where we are to journey to greater heights.
Glenn Sonnenberg, board member, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles
Democracy works. The Jewish people have been around for millennia because we follow the rule of law, we have patience. Both were required in spades over these past weeks. Another takeaway is that, when the history of this election is written, many people (including many Jews) voted out of fear, rather than out of hope. Hope wins.
Jordan Berg Powers, progressive political organizer in Massachusetts
I am feeling really excited by the embrace of the Jewish community for the moral and just vote. No matter how you count it, three out of every four Jews understood that justice was on the ballot and followed our moral teachings to vote accordingly. By beating back Nazism, Biden has already done the Jewish people the biggest service he likely can and that is not a small thing.
Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justic Shtiebl
I’m hopeful the U.S. will rejoin the Paris agreement, that we will listen to the voice of our youth leaders, that the Jewish obligation to be stewards of the earth to be re-centered. I have a lot of profound hope and longing that in the next four years we’ll be able to listen to the call of science. I think climate-change is one of the No. 1 Jewish values we can be mobilizing around right now.
This election season has made it clear how much the theater and the pageantry exists to keep us distracted from our material realities, and the ways we can care for our neighbors and solve problems on the local level. So it’s been a spiritual practice for me and our community to keep our eyes on the horizon, and not just focus on the earthly kings that Samuel warned us against.
David N. Myers, professor of Jewish History, UCLA, and president, New Israel Fund
It is not a time to gloat, boast or attack. Up until this moment, I felt myself a combatant in a battle for the soul of America. From this moment forward, I feel the need to understand the 68 million without presuming their evil intent.
The key takeaway for me as a Jew and human is the triumph of decency over meanness. Joe Biden intuitively understands the multiple meanings of the Hebrew word tzedek: justice, compassion, charity. We will need all of those cognates of tzedek to repair our broken political world.
Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, British journalist and podcaster
I want him to unequivocally reject white supremacy, and lead the country in that spirit every single day of his administration. I’m tired of worrying about my Black and Jewish kindred being in danger due to Trump’s white-nationalist rhetoric and base. A Biden win won’t end the issues in the U.S., but at least it would be the beginning of an administration that doesn’t galvanize them anymore.
Mayim Bialik, actress
I hope Jews can see that there is more than one way to protect and support and love Israel – not just the Republican way. Liberal democrats love Israel too, and a true democracy means we figure it all out together.
Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan in Chicago
My hope for the next presidency is healing the deep distrust between Americans of different political persuasions, and dismantling the systems that hold people – specifically minorities, people of color, and women and non-binary people – back from experiencing the fullness of the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all
Leor Rosen, 22, senior at University of Michigan and former president of the campus Hillel
It’s finally settling in that history may be made shortly and the first female Vice President will be elected. I think the news has primarily focused on the Trump vs. Biden race for good reason, but now that it’s looking promising, I am excited beyond words about this historic moment.”
The U.S. is in desperate need of healing in a time of a global pandemic, racial injustice, and economic downturn. Therefore my hope is that the Biden administration incorporates the Jewish value of ‘Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world as well as “tzedakah,” which is often translated as justice, into their policies. Biden’s win gives me hope that our country will be filled with less hate and division and more justice and change. “
Steve Sheffey, Chicago-based author of a pro-Israel newsletter
I’m savoring the strength of our democracy and looking forward to a return of sanity and decency to the White House and the world, including Israel and the Middle East.
The Jewish community remains overwhelmingly pro-Israel and realized that the Democratic Party remains our home. But we have a small but vocal segment of the Jewish community that blinded itself to the dangers of Trump, and that’s concerning, as is the failure of many Jewish institutions to speak out against Trump.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson, associate chaplain at Elon University in North Carolina
My hope for a Biden presidency is hope, empathy and a return to civility.
Devorah Halberstam, co-founder of Jewish Children’s Museum
My son was murdered in a terrorist attack in revenge for what was taking place in the Middle East, so that is extremely important to me personally, and I would hope that he could expand on what President Trump began. I hope he will expand on this so that we will ultimately have peace in that region.
Chaya Milchtein, 25, writer, speaker, founder of Mechanic Shop Femme
Biden isn’t close to my ideal candidate, nor do I think that his presidency is in any way revolutionary. People like me came out to vote against Trump, not for Biden and with the hope that Biden will be a president, we can hold accountable to do what’s right and just — and not just for white, upper-class Americans.
Lori Dinkin, 101, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and has been actively volunteering and supporting Biden from her home in Los Angeles
I’ve met Biden, and all I can say is that he is a decent human being, and someone who won’t destroy everything we’ve gained. He will bring some calm and respect to a country that is so divided. It is necessary for Jewish people, for the future, for my grandchildren.
It’s still going to be difficult because of how divided this country is. It’s scary because it really does remind me of Nazi Germany. It makes me sad because I think “Why did I live this long to see America fall apart?”
Jeremy Burton, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
I’m struck by how wildly off some of the polling was. There’s a deep brokenness to our politics and people have beliefs, fears, hopes, and values that they don’t feel comfortable expressing to their friends and peers.
We’ve got to find a way to be honest with one another and to hold our differences in a way that allows us to engage with them. I can’t honor your fear if I don’t understand it. I can’t join in your hope if I don’t even know what it is.
And if I don’t see all of you as who you are, as a person in this world and in this work, then I’m not seeing you fully as part of Tzelem Elohim, created in the Divine Image as we all are. Our nation was deeply divided before Tuesday. Our nation is still deeply divided. We’ve got work to do.
Avram Mlotek, co-founder of BASE Hillel
I don’t think it’s over until President Trump exits the White House. I’m going to wait until January to fully celebrate. I actually think there’s a lot more to mourn in this moment.
It’s a painful reminder of just how divided our country remains.
In the Jewish tradition we say derech eretz, how we behave, takes precedence before Torah values. How we engage with each other, how we speak, common courtesy takes precedence. This president has completely eroded any type of normalcy.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
We saw the power of really four years of organizing and building up power and that’s something. When we think about the Jewish people, even just the original liberation struggle to come out of Egypt, you needed 600,000 people to go along with it. It’s not about one leader. It’s about 600,000 people taking action together collectively and we’ve seen the power of that.
We’ve been in such danger and we’ve seen how deadly white nationalism is over the last four years, especially when there’s a president who is openly winking to the violent white nationalists. To have a president who will not say that there are fine people on both sides and will be really clear that racism and antisemitism etc. are just not acceptable.
Michael Koplow, policy director, Israel Policy Forum, Washington, D.C.
A Biden victory means a return to a more traditional American policy in the Middle East of regional engagement.
It means continuing support for Israel as a critical American ally but also an effort to reengage with the Palestinians, and an understanding that just because something is good for one side does not ipso facto make it bad for the other side. Most critically on this front will be a recommitment to a two-state outcome that both sides can live with.