Among the progressive streams of Judaism, there is now a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the different challenges President Trump has either created or increased in both the political and cultural spheres in this country. Many Reform rabbis, represented by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), are trying to find ways to stand up for what the Reform movement represents in the United States.The rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks during his campaign and since his victory led to the creation of the new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. This project of the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America shows that there is a sense that greater solidarity between the various minority communities in this country is required. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a Muslim-Jewish women’s organization, recently been profiled in the New York Times, is another example of this growing recognition.
As reported here, there are many Reform Jewish rabbis who are worried by this general increase in xenophobia, and are actively working to assist both their own congregations and the wider culture, both Jewish and non-Jewish. As someone who works on one of the campuses of the flagship institution of Reform Judaism, these concerns are something I hear on almost daily basis. Whether it is in personal contacts, e-mails sent by campus and national administration, and even in the general mood of the students, faculty and staff, President Trump and his policies come up in almost every conversation. His policies are antithetical to the progressive cultural and religious values that Reform Judaism advocates. Whether it is his travel ban, once again blocked by a federal judge despite his administration’s attempts to make it withstand such challenges, his rhetoric on the border wall with Mexico, the rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents or his attacks on transgender rights, everyone is worried about the direction America seems to be heading. As reiterated countless times, by religious leaders and progressive politicians and others concerned by the rise in xenophobia and attacks, American is great because of its commitment to diversity and equality, not in spite of it. The status of America as a refuge for those seeking it has come into question recently. The idea that America is no longer welcoming has lead some who might otherwise come here for education or employment to choose another country as they fear America would not be safe for them any longer. I find this deeply saddening, as that means we lose those benefits we would have gained from them coming to this country.
Finding ways to work towards safeguarding the gains made in protecting minorities of all kinds in this country is the task that we are all working towards. As written in one of the statements issued by the conference, “Even though the Reform Movement has long been a leader on racial, gender, and economic justice, on civil and human rights, on confronting bigotry, the work is not finished. Now, more than ever, we must come together to support each other and our congregations and communities.” Showing that there is a valid religious response on the part of the progressive side of American Judaism is important as it shows that being religious does not mean one must be a political conservative. The conference of Reform rabbis for this year had many sessions devoted to how to balance all the various duties of the rabbinate in a time in which many feel overwhelmed, providing arenas for discussion and reflection. Many of the sessions dealt with building stronger interfaith coalitions, which is always a positive as it creates greater understanding and solidarity. As the CCAR supports the two-state solution, increasing support for Israel and for the future Palestinian state was also a topic of discussion. Trying to correct the current situation in which Reform (and Conservative) Jews are not given the same rights and privileges in Israel is also a topic of discussion, both at the conference and in general in the Reform movement.
It is a very worrying time as many far-right parties are gaining ground around the world. I am proud to work in an organization that is so deeply involved in tikkun olam, the repairing of the world by fighting injustice and inequality wherever it is found. Therefore, I look forward to hearing more about the conference from those rabbis who attended regarding what steps are being taken to ensure that progressive values, both religious and not, here in the United States and around the world, are continuing to be championed.
Photo Credit:Sultan Edijingo via Wikimedia Commons