Breaking the Silence

This piece was written by Becky Khitrik, one of the 2016-2017 Boston Bridge Fellows.

There are approximately ten weeks between the election and the inauguration of the next president.

In the grand scheme of things, ten weeks is not a lot of time (and before 1933, Inauguration Day wasn’t until March), but this year, the weeks have inched by at an excruciating pace.

My faith community, like many others, went into crisis mode during the wee hours of November 9th, and 9 weeks later we are no closer to figuring out how to emerge from the fall-out.

On the surface, our political worries may seem petty, especially when compared to those of our neighbors.  The majority of members in our congregation are well off.  We are a privileged community of mostly white worshippers, and we (mostly) do not fear for our personal safety or welfare.  We share a progressive vision of repairing the world according to the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, and for a growing synagogue, we are remarkably politically unified.  Unlike other congregations in the area, we do not have many members who voted on opposite sides of the aisle.

Because of these circumstances, I felt safe confiding to my colleagues at work and to my congregants whose fears echoed my own.  On November 9th, I went to each classroom of our religious school and had frank conversations with students who had all been reared under an Obama administration and taught from an early age that repairing the world starts with a progressive political agenda.  We spoke of existential fears verses real, every day dangers, and what we could do if we wanted to enact change.

Outside of my liberal bubble, however, I remained silent. I tried to be supportive of politically active members of my community, without getting too publicly involved.  I was afraid of alienating the few congregants whose politics differed from my own.  I was afraid that my politics could hinder my chances of getting a future job.  I was afraid of being accused of following a liberal agenda, of not being supportive enough of Israel.

I believed that my pulpit was a place to leave my politics behind. I hid behind the illusion of separation of church and state.

Above all I was, and remain, afraid of not having anything productive to say that hasn’t already been said.   A friend of mine articulated this sentiment well.  He said, “I don’t want to see one more @#$ statement or think piece or talking head telling me how to understand and empathize with the throngs of [….] people who brought this calamity upon us.”  Even as I write this post, I worry that my words will bounce back in an echo chamber of agreement, or fall flat on deaf ears.  What is the point of speaking out?

And then one evening I casually voiced some of my post election anxiety to a Muslim member of my interfaith fellowship.  He asked me the questions I stated above, “Why exactly is your community concerned about a Trump presidency?  What do Jews have to fear?”  I was so unprepared for these questions that I didn’t give him a very good answer.  I worried that I came off as unknowledgeable, and I felt guilty that unlike him, I really didn’t have that much to personally worry about.

Upon further reflection, I now realize that my habit of fostering a separation of politics and religion was hindering my ability to state what was really on my mind.

The following is my revised answer to my Muslim colleague and to all others who may wonder, “What is my community worried about?”:

I am worried because we, like many houses of faith, have congregants who decided not to go home over the holidays, because they could not face their “other candidate” supporting relatives.  We, like many other congregations in the area, have members who are now fretting about the status of their health care, reproductive rights, and the sanctity of their marriages.  We, like many other communities, have members raising black children, who are terrified about the growing racial tensions in America.  And we, like many other synagogues, are worried about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred since the election.

Over the past month, I’ve fretted over the questions of how to heal, how to truly love our neighbors as ourselves, and how to cultivate forgiveness.  I turned to therapists for advice about how to work through disagreement.  I’ve read post-election analyses and think pieces till I was blue in the face, hoping to find a piece of inspiration that I hadn’t heard before.  I looked to the Torah, to the stories we recently read of the improbable reconciliation of brothers (Jacob and Esau, Joseph and siblings) in hopes that we might learn the way toward peace through their honesty.

And then I realized that to be an agent of the healing process for others, I had to lose my façade of neutrality.  If I was going to preach the importance of speaking out against the “isms” that blight our world, I had to get honest with others.

Lately the trope “words matter” has circulated over social media.  Silence matters too.  As of now, I’m breaking mine.



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