Jewish D.C. has been abuzz in the past weeks since the election about a possible new family in their midst: the Trump/Kushner family. How will residents of their chosen community accept the couple and their three children? Reports have been mixed. Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, married to Jared Kushner, is the ultimate ger in Washington: both a stranger in a strange land and a convert.
The commandment to welcome the stranger is the most repeated in the Torah, popping up 35 times in the entire text of the most sacred book in Judaism. The Torah uses the word ger, which is often translated as “convert” but is really just a word meant to describe someone who was not born in the land in which he or she lives. In modern times in Orthodox congregations across the world, the commandment is honored by “hospitality committees,” which pair those without Shabbat meals with those in the community who have extra space at their tables.
While I lived in Washington, I had many friends serving on the committee, and so, over the years, I was happily guilted into hosting a great number of folks. Sometimes they were in the process of conversion, sometimes they were just visiting the city, and sometimes they were prospective families scoping out Kesher Israel before making the commitment to move to the area. Hospitality committees don’t ask questions; they just welcome other Jews to Shabbat tables in the community.
So where might the Kushners end up? Kesher Israel, in Georgetown, is in contention, and the New York Post reports that Ohev Sholom may also be in the running, though things may be a bit tense if the Trumps end up at the latter, home to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who infamously shouted down Trump this past year at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Herzfeld disavows the Post’s story and notes that he would never comment on a congregant or a prospective congregational family.)
One of the most amazing things about being Jewish, and Orthodox in particular, is the sense of home no matter where you go. While traveling in my teens and 20s, my first stop to orient myself in a new city was often Chabad. As a married couple, my husband and I planned Shabbat meals wherever we went, enjoying the hospitality of strangers’ tables; we were invited to them simply because we were also Jewish. An open invitation to a Shabbat table or a community should never be contingent upon having the “right” politics. Nor should having different politics than the majority of a community, or even its rabbi, justify shunning a new member family before they’ve even moved in.
It’s been over a month since the election, but rancour and sentiment seem unabated. But what was Trump’s allure to the voters who cast their ballots for him? Despite the time since the election, there has been precious little consideration of the reasons (this piece by Eduardo Porter aside) that anyone would, in good faith, vote for him. In his protest against Trump at AIPAC, Herzfeld said: “He is wicked. He inspires racists and bigots.” What few opposed to Trump on the left seem to understand is that this rhetoric didn’t deter his voters, it inspired more of them.
In an interview with The Atlantic in May, a 22-year-old Trump supporter living in California explained why he was planning on voting for the candidate. Via email, he told Conor Friedersdorf:
For me personally, it’s resistance against what San Francisco has been, and what I see the country becoming, in the form of ultra-PC culture. That’s where it’s almost impossible to have polite or constructive political discussion. Disagreement gets you labeled fascist, racist, bigoted, etc. It can provoke a reaction so intense that you’re suddenly an unperson to an acquaintance or friend. There is no saying “Hey, I disagree with you,” it’s just instant shunning.
A viral post-election tweet put it even more succinctly:
When you block everyone that disagrees, shut down speakers at colleges, & have no friends w/ different views, yes elections may shock you.
If Donald Trump was elected because those opposed to him preferred shunning and shaming his supporters, what good could possibly be accomplished by shunning his family in a house of worship?
Many of Trump’s opponents have compared the candidate to the most vile racist figures in our society (something I, even as a Trump opponent way back to the Republican primaries, do not do). If they honestly believe the future president to be akin to a leader of Stormfront, a lesson could be learned from how an open Shabbat table from Orthodox students for everyone on a college campus, even to the once heir to the leadership of white nationalism in America, changed history. Derek Black began his college career as a popular white nationalist radio host, taking after his father, Don Black, the creator of Stormfront, the largest and most popular white nationalist website.
The open-minded and accepting nature of his classmates, Jewish ones in particular, led to a slow sea change of Black’s views on race and ethnicity. Once he began to feel comfortable in the company of Jewish students of opposing opinions, he began to really listen to what they had to say, which is what eventually changed his heart completely. His classmates understood the adage “You catch more bees with honey….”
In a multitude of ways, Washington is about to become a far more interesting place come January. For Jews in the nation’s capital, it shall become doubly so, with the addition of the Kushner family to the pews of one of its Jewish institutions. While many liberal fellow congregants may feel it therapeutic to shun the new first family, as Jews it behooves us to set aside politics for the sake of maintaining a sense of real Jewish community. It may not feel easy or enjoyable to daven with someone whose politics you deplore, but it is an important communal and personal exercise in ahavat yisrael, translated to “love for one’s fellow Jews.” And opening our hearts and minds to a fellow Jew with whom we disagree may pay unforeseen dividends down the road.
Bethany Mandel writes a regular column on politics and culture for the Forward, usually from a conservative perspective. Follow her on Twitter, @BethanyShondark