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‘Biden’s rabbi’ says everyone must be patient, as the Children of Israel learned to do in the desert

Rabbi Michael Beals has an exceptionally soothing voice, which has come in handy this week. The man known as “Biden’s rabbi” has spent most of the week trying to keep the members of his synagogue, Cong. Beth Shalom, in Wilmington, Del., from tearing the hair out of their heads.

Beals met Biden at a basement shivah call in 2006, for a woman who gave $18 to each of the former Vice President’s campaigns starting in 1972. Since then, Beals has only become more convinced of Biden’s fundamental decency and humility — characteristics that became major selling points of his campaign for president.

With Biden now the president elect, Beals feels that the Jewish community should emulate Biden’s attempt to heal division.

“It behooves us to be as magnanimous as possible to Jews who feel like they lost,” Beals said. “I think that’s the challenge.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Ari Feldman: What have you been doing this week?

Rabbi Michael Beals: Praying. And trying to keep my congregants calm by being really positive. I was trying to remind them that when the Children of Israel freaked out and lost patience, we reverted to worshiping a Golden Calf, and we destroyed our relationship with God. But when we were patient, it took 40 years, but we finally got into the Promised Land.

Trump is very much like the Children of Israel and the Golden Calf: complete panic, worshiping the wrong ideas, and idolatry. The moment you undercut the democratic process, it’s bad for everybody.

A personal note from former Vice President Joe Biden to Rabbi Michael Beals.

A personal note from former Vice President Joe Biden to Rabbi Michael Beals. Image by Courtesy of Rabbi Michael Beals

AF: What, in your perspective, does Biden’s election represent for American Jews? One part of the community feels the last four years have been great, the other thinks it’s been a disaster.

MB: There’s a lot of repair that needs to happen. I can’t tell you how many hateful emails I got from pro-Trump Jews who felt like I’d been a turncoat to them and a self-hating Jew, or they used the word “kapo” with me — the type of Jews that helped the Nazis.

AF: Do you have faith in Biden to be a beacon of unification for the Jewish community?

MB: Some of the hateful email I got was from Jews in Brooklyn who are very frum, very observant. And they’re the ones who used words like kapo. I took a deep breath, and I said to myself, WWJD: Not Jesus, but, what would Joe do?

I wrote back, I said, first off, thank you for spending all this time and energy to write to me, and to write to me with such passion. I think that it’s a waste of time for us to try to change each other’s minds. But I do want to remind you that the Second Temple was lost because of baseless hatred of one Jew against another.

So I’d like to suggest that we celebrate what we have in common. On more than one occasion I got a letter back asking me for mechilah, which is part of forgiveness.

AF: If you could envision a Biden-inspired plan for trying to bring the Jewish community back together after this very divisive four years, across intra-religious lines, what would that plan look like?

MB: If you look at Trumpers in the Jewish community, and if you look at Trumpers in general outside of the Jewish community, I think the issue that they share in common is that they feel invisible and they feel unheard.

Some of it is Jews listening to Jews. A lot of it is alienated Jews being listened to by the president. I would want to go ahead, and with the help of leadership in the Orthodox world in particular, to have listening sessions, and put Biden with that group, and make sure he lets them know that they’ve been heard.

AF: What about those in the Jewish community who can’t understand Trump supporters?

MB: You build relationships person by person. We need chevrutas — study partners, for people to meet with other people on the other side to have serious conversations. We have to help the invisible feel visible. You’re doing it right now, with me. You’re asking questions. The more magnanimous the center, center-left is with the center-right, the more peace there will be. And I think that’s really important.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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