We were made for this. The Jewish people and Jewish tradition itself were designed for survival. We were designed for social transformation. Now, with Donald Trump threatening the norms and institutions of our democratic society, we must come together to resist and respond to any attempt to set us back.
We all hope that our worst fears will not be realized, but we don’t know what will happen or what kind of action will be needed. What we do know is we must stand in solidarity with all people who may be threatened by the government’s wrongful attempts to abridge the safety, liberty, or dignity of our neighbors and one another, by using all the spiritual, political and intellectual resources we possess.
Civil Rights leader Rabbi Joachim Prinz reminds us: “Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” We shall be heard.
We believe all American Jews and Jewish organizations must be true to our Jewish values to ensure our country continues to strive toward its highest aspirations and ideals. To accomplish this, Bend the Arc proposes the following Jewish communal response as an initial framework:
1. All Jews and Jewish organizations have roles to play.
We must each determine what our greatest contribution can be toward achieving a vision of our country — and our world — that upholds the Jewish values of equity, justice and human dignity. Jewish organizations that tend to avoid “politics” for fear of alienating members or donors must consider the cost and consequences of silence. From sermons from the bima; to advocacy on policy issues; to teaching our children about empathy, diversity and inclusion; to ensuring our Jewish communal organizations continue to fight for programs like SNAP and Medicare; to synagogues joining other houses of worship providing sanctuary, there is a role for every type of Jewish organization and every Jew.
2. Amplify voices of prophetic vision and moral courage.
Jewish teaching and spiritual guidance can fortify us, nourish us, and sustain us for the long haul. Rabbis, Jewish spiritual practitioners, historians, and healers can offer emotional and intellectual sustenance through teachings, gatherings, ritual, and wider reaching mediums like webinars. Taking these steps will build up individual and communal spiritual resilience practices so that when we emphasize values-based solutions rooted in moral courage, we can open hearts and minds and build bridges.
3. Speak truth about what we’re seeing, by calling out the dangers of undiscerning nationalism and the rise of fascism:
As Jews, “We’ve Seen This Before”: The scapegoating of immigrants; the demonization of religious minorities; the intimidation of the media; the threats of mob and state violence; the flagrant disregard for truth. We know these signs point to the possible erosion of our fundamental civil liberties and democratic society. For the safety and well-being of our neighbors and our own community, we will add our voices and take action at the earliest signs of the curtailing of civil liberties and freedoms, like we did in our multi-faith petition to get President Obama to dismantle the Muslim registry. We will call on activists, lawyers and other vested parties to join large-scale national and local efforts to prevent the erosion of constitutional and civil liberties. We implore our community to resist any attempts to pit “Jewish interests” against the rights and liberties of others or trade the rights and civil liberties of others for the promise of Jewish security and safety.
4. Deepen relationships and join broad coalitions with the most vulnerable members of society currently on the front lines of hatred and bigotry:
Hate crimes are rising. Communities of Color, immigrant communities, Muslim communities and other religious minorities who have already been living in fear of danger and violence are likely to experience increased violence in the Trump era. The Jewish community must honestly access the depth of relationship- or lack thereof- with non-Jewish people of color, immigrants and Muslim communities. Only then can we establish and cultivate relationships with these frontline communities to learn more about each other and demonstrate mutual support – such as offering our synagogues or homes as sanctuaries when Muslims and immigrants are threatened. By joining local and national efforts to build authentic relationships with multi-racial, multi-class, and multi-faith communities, we will demonstrate that fear cannot divide us.
5. Expose and dismantle white supremacy.
White supremacy is the superstructure that upholds and reinforces other systems of institutional and interpersonal oppression such as racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, sexism, homophobia and antisemitism. Building a shared understanding around this framework is crucial, because it allows more and more of us to perceive the systems of oppression around us that are invisible to some, but profoundly visible to others. In this moment, when many Jews feel a visceral and profound fear, we must not retreat into our parochial enclaves and hope that Jewish figures like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s proximity to Trump will prevent acts of antisemitism by the administration and its supporters. Instead, we must understand how white Jews have inadvertently benefited from white supremacy; how our participation in white supremacy is actually dangerous for all oppressed communities including Jews; and how we must renew our commitment to dismantling white supremacy inside and outside the Jewish community. Elevating and supporting the leadership of Jews of color is an important first step and one concrete strategy to reject white supremacy at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels.
6. Use Inside and Outside power:
In partnership with our non-Jewish progressive allies, we should encourage artists, writers and other cultural creators to create story-lines in TV shows, movies and plays that are focused on issues of inequality and the dangers of fascism and to provide alternate compelling pictures of what an equitable and inclusive democracy looks like. Jewish organizations and leaders who have access to decision makers in the private sector, at the municipal, state and federal levels, and to progressive organizations, and grassroots activists must apply pressure in all these domains. Strategic campaigns that mobilize the grassroots and push moderate Republicans to “peel off” from their more conservative colleagues should be utilized whenever possible.
7. Be prepared and willing to escalate.
Many Jews have experienced relative safety from antisemitism for decades. Now, however, Jews are once again experiencing fear, with Jews of intersectional identities facing particularly increased danger due to racism, homophobia, transphobia and/or other compounded issues of oppression. By taking steps to educate people now, and sharing the costs of mass trainings and skills building, we will prepare our community for acts of civil disobedience and public resistance.
8. Find new ways to work together across our communal divides:
In working to protect the civil rights and liberties of vulnerable communities (including our own), we must put aside the litmus tests that have previously divided our community and act with unity and conviction in areas of alignment. We must understand this is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and communities who are currently in danger cannot afford our internal in-fighting and do not benefit from our divisions.
9. Help Jews take action as Jews:
Like many organizations that have been active in the Jewish social justice space, we are seeing a significant influx of Jews across the country who want to take meaningful action in cooperation with other Jews. It is imperative that we maximize this opportunity to demonstrate to the next generation of Jews that engaging in social justice work and political advocacy can and should be a fundamental part of their Jewish identity. We must demonstrate the values that we uphold as progressives and as Jews are one and the same and that these identities are mutually reinforcing.
10. Put Jewish financial resources to work toward building the future we want:
We are a philanthropic community with a history of funding people, organizations, and movements that have dramatically improved the lives of others. Jewish philanthropists can leverage their relationships with other philanthropic communities and entities, making the case for shared investing in a new vision for our country, with directly impacted communities leading the way. Jewish business owners and private sector entrepreneurs can promote values-based economic approaches such as a “triple bottom line” of creating positive social, environmental, and financial impact.
Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. Follow her on Twitter @StoshCotler