Jews in the Pacific Northwest are turning on each other
It’s a Shabbat in the summer of 2020 and the Rabbi has poured shots to toast L’Chaiym like he does every week. As we go around to share our goods news for the week, I begin white knuckling my fist when a guest of the Shabbat group raises a glass in honor of President Trump and whatever boisterous social media achievement he tweeted about that day. My jaw begins to tighten as the words come out of his mouth.
Most Jewish debates are free flowing, insightful, and mentally stimulating. But this feels pre-scripted for a campaign. It’s divisive. It is not a true L’Chaiym at all, and I notice other guests at our Shabbat dinner also wince, look away, and their lips tightening in annoyance.
Jews don’t like to be preached to. We like to share and learn.
My back is to the man praising Trump, but I have an overwhelming urge to turn around in our socially distanced setting and tell him “How dare he give a L’Chayim to that man’s name after what he has said and done.” My soon to be wife touches my hand and whispers, “Let it go. It’s not worth it.”
The L’Chayims continue.
I wish I could say these types of instances are rare, but since the election they seem to be a daily issue, whether it’s at a Shabbat dinner, on the news, on social media, or at the office.
Sides are being drawn, but not like sporting events where people wear different jerseys and it’s all in good fun and everyone remains friends after the game. I feel this is a battle for the future of our identity as Jews.
Historically, it has not been easy for the Jewish community in the Northwest. But like everywhere else, we have made it our home, no matter the odds. In both my youth and adult life, I have witnessed and heard of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the PNW, in Oregon and Washington. Most people think that the PNW is a very liberal place. But outside the I-5 corridor it is not the case.
The truth is, between the extremes and even mainstreams of right and left, the Jewish community is very isolated and on our own. I do not count on conservatism, liberalism, Republican or Democratic parties to have our best interests in mind.
Over the years, politicians of all sorts have demonized or embraced Israel and the Jewish community, depending on how the political winds blow. History has taught us that in the end, Jews can really only count on fellow Jews because we have historically been a tightly woven community since our beginnings.
Now I am seeing something new and scary: True division within our community.
As a minority, I feel that we should be on the side of רודפי צדק — chasers of justice — and fight for those who are oppressed as we once were, and in some cases, still are. My Rabbi once said to me, “You have a responsibility to do more when you have more.” Instead of our community doing more for policy change to pursue justice and protect the weak, I am seeing Jewish individuals believe the falsehoods and repeat negative statements or generalizations about communities that they have never been in contact with. I see people repeating misinformation and superstitions spewed by the likes of QANON.
With Covid-19 keeping everyone at home, it is a perfect storm for deprogramming critical thinking. I have seen members of the Jewish community turn their backs on our faith, culture, and Israel.
Blanket statements have been made regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians without taking under consideration the last 60 years of what has transpired between the two. Individuals who have never visited Israel, or even had a conversation with an Israeli are only mimicking what they have heard on TV or seen on social media and are refusing to hear both sides. The 24-hour news cycle tells them what to do and what to watch out for, and many blindly follow.
Judaism has never been about perfection or absolutes, but about growing in wisdom and understanding at one’s own pace. That wisdom and understanding are lacking, and Jews being used as political pawns is not helping.
As Jews, I feel we have always understood the notion of life being chess, not checkers. But I fear we are becoming short-sighted and divided.
We should not let outside interests dictate our next move or define us as a people.
Administrations, turbulence among nations, divisions within one’s own country will come and go, but what we do together as the collective Jewish community defines who we truly are.