Back during my childhood in Putnam County, N.Y., my family was part of a small Jewish congregation named Chavura Beth Chai. It was founded by a handful of families (the Pearlmans included) who wanted to practice spirituality in a comfortable setting with familiar faces and a relatively laid-back approach. For much of my youth our services and Hebrew school were held on the campus of Lincoln Hall, a reform school for boys. We switched rabbis every three or four years, often hiring recently graduated students to lead the congregation. There were probably, oh, 20 kids, and we grew up spending our Sunday mornings together.
I’ve never been a particularly religious person, but the Chavurah was (and still remains) home.
I hadn’t given much thought to my Jewish youth of late, but then—earlier today in Washington—Donald Trump lit into American Jews (who don’t back the GOP), noting, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Now, I know many were pissed by this. And many others were bewildered by the stupidity of the sentiment. For me, though, I can’t help but think the 45th president (a man who has certainly been exposed to Jews throughout his life) simply doesn’t get us. See, I was raised in the manner many reform and conservative Jews of the 1970s and 1980s were raised—yes, to love Israel, but mainly to love others. To fight for the oppressed. To empathize with the suffering. To realize that being Jewish means having a distant history of enslavement and a modern history of being prejudged, mocked, scorned, belittled. Jews played major roles in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s because we, too, have fought for our rights and respect. We get it. We feel it.
Also, we are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Holocaust. The stories have been told to us, and we have promised never to forget what it was for Jews to be treated as animals; to be thrown into cages; to die in a struggle to exist.
Were there a recurring theme of my Chavurah experience, it was—love. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Love your enemy. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Feel the pain of another, and seek to lessen it. Hug, Kiss. Smile. Inspire.
Donald Trump assumes we—as a people—are mindless, single-issue lemmings, easily swayed by his bullshit love affair with the grotesque Benjamin Netanyahu. He thinks we’ll line up behind him because he relocated an embassy and ignored the needs of Palestinians.
What he doesn’t get—and will never get—is that we are a religion of the people. We do not exist for Israel.
We exist to love.