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Celebration and Healing

In the end, it turned out, race did not matter. Americans went to the polls and chose a president because of what he could do, not what he looked like.

Race has been America’s great shame for two centuries. On November 4, America showed itself and the world that it can face its shame and overcome. We chose to spread democracy in the best way possible, by practicing it.

Americans have much to celebrate. It has been a long time since masses of people poured into our streets in joy rather than in anger. Even those who backed the losing candidate must be moved by the worldwide chorus of praise for American democracy. This country is accustomed to being the hope of humanity, admired as much for our values as for our might, but we haven’t heard much applause in quite a while.

The world community has a lot to celebrate, too. America’s choice of leaders has a profound impact on the lives of people across the globe. And yet, only we get to choose. For eight years our choices have soured the lives of millions — launching a pointless war in Iraq, fueling unneeded tensions, blocking global efforts to save our very planet — while the rest of humanity could only look on in helpless frustration. Now, at last, we have chosen a president who promises to listen to others and show, as our founders put it, a decent respect for the opinions of humankind.

Like our neighbors, American Jews too have good cause for celebration. Most of us are Democrats, moderates and liberals, advocates of civil liberties, human rights and peace. Jews have opposed the war in Iraq by larger margins than the country overall. We see our fate inextricably tied to church-state separation, and we fear the entry of religious zealotry into the political process. We love and defend Israel, but we pray for a safer, more peaceful world in which Israel can best survive and thrive. For all these reasons, most of us look forward to the new administration addressing our concerns and reflecting our values. We have longed for this moment.

But while most Jews are celebrating, the larger Jewish community has some serious soul-searching to do. We learned some harsh facts about ourselves during this campaign. Our divisions are deeper and angrier than most of us understood. Mutual comprehension and civility are all but gone. Jewish conservatives, alarmed at new global threats, have adopted a strident rhetoric in which the liberalism of most Jews is painted as folly or worse. Jewish liberals dismiss conservatives’ fears as racism or bloodlust and imagine that they can walk away from it, as though it came from some alien planet and not from their brethren.

Our communal tensions became headline fodder this past year, to our discomfort. Because our divisions overlap major fault lines between the parties, our community was considered up for grabs. Republicans have waited years to claim a share of the Jewish voting public, with its prestige, financial generosity and strategic electoral leverage. The result this year was all-out war. Ugly words were spoken. To many, the Jewish community was made to appear as a foe of reform. That shouldn’t have happened. It’s time for Jews to sit together and talk and talk until we have found a way to be a community again.

This election ushers in a time of healing for America and the world. As Americans, we rejoice in the new possibilities. As Jews, we lament the state of public discourse. We have a lot of work to do.

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