Rabbi’s Oresky’s Sermon (November 19, 2016): Where Do We Go from Here?

Dear Friends,

A week ago Tuesday, the country elected the most controversial and divisive a candidate for president than any who has ever run for the office. Wherever you stood on the issues, and whatever your previous voting experience, and however you understand the forces that drove this tidal wave, we can all agree that major change, and not necessarily of the positive kind, is coming. Ever since the election, the number of hate crimes has spiked, apparently tied to the empowerment of the alt-right (read neo-Nazi) and other white supremacist forces that still exist in our “land of the free.” The designation of alt-right sympathizer Steve Bannon as chief strategist of the Trump administration is, to say the least, troubling. To many across the country, from those who have already suffered hate crimes to those who have been merely intimidated, from those young people marching in the streets to those of all ages who more passively but anxiously wait for what seems to be the inevitable hardships that will come, the future appears at best murky and at worst horrifying.

After the post-mortem analyses have ended, we are left with the results of the peoples’ selection and ponder the implications. Our very system of choosing the president, the electoral college, has again come under attack as not being the right tool for a true democracy, since, again, the candidate with the greatest number of individual votes, this time by a margin of more than a million, did not win the electoral college. It is not enough to analyze and rethink the mechanism of election, however; it is now the time to try to understand the economic, societal, and even spiritual motivations of those who propelled Mr. Trump into office.

As an American people, who are we now? And as the Jewish segment of the American people, what is our new reality? It is probably a bit paranoid to say we are now living in a time equivalent to the early days of the Third Reich, but the trepidation is nevertheless understandable – we’ve seen this climate before. More than ever, we need now to clarify our own beliefs, to assertively stand up for those rights and institutions that may be challenged, to seek to understand the beliefs, needs, and frustrations of the people around us, and to do our best to turn down the flames of hatred and division that were at highest flame during this toxic election cycle. More than ever, we must now get involved in causes that will be threatened and actively give support to people who are already being attacked. This is a tall order, but one that must be pursued if we are to remain part of a just society for all Americans, no matter their race or religion. When the Torah says tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice you shall pursue – it is not asking us to take a casual stroll, but to chase it with all the speed and power we can muster, for only by doing so can we remain an ohr lagoyim, a light unto the nations. In that way, as Abraham was blessed by G-d, we too, his descendants, can be a blessing to all nations.

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