Divrei Tikvah

From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson

Even though the next presidential election does not take place until November, 2020, politics is consuming traditional cable news networks, social media, and public discourse. The conversations taking place are not particularly civil, let alone friendly.

We each have our points of view about what matters should consume the attention of our lawmakers, whether or not we should be concerned about the security of global economies, how to address bigotry big and small, and what to do about climate change here and now. We should each have our own points of view about these matters.

The problem in our public discourse is not having points of view. The problem is that we are rapidly losing the capacity to listen to points of view other than our own. We are taking the bait from forces that thrive off chaos and nihilism. As one outrage trumps the next, we seem to be retreating either into our own team’s corners or isolation.

Just this past week I learned about a conversation that took place at one of our events during the past year. Around a table, folks were invited to share something distressing they were experiencing. Someone responded, “Republicans.” Many around the table agreed, expressing anger and disappointment. Nobody meant to hurt anybody else’s feelings. But…another couple sitting at that table, perceived the message that as Republicans or Conservatives (I don’t know as I didn’t ask) our congregation is not a comfortable space for them in their efforts to connect with Jewish life and celebration.

The truth is that Jews have been Republicans for decades. Demographic studies suggest 35-40% of American Jews register with the Republican Party. Another truth is that in the last presidential election approximately 75% of voting Jews voted for the Democrat, Green, Independent candidates, or did not vote the top of the ticket.

I, along with many in our congregation, have strong feelings about the current state of our union and 2020’s presidential election. It seems to me that it is impossible to keep politics out of our conversations. We care too deeply about the matters we care about.

That being said, I also think that the divisiveness that stems from intolerance of Republicans or Democrats, Democratic Socialist or free market advocates, climate change believers and disbelievers is dangerous to our democracy and our communities small and large.

As we roll into a New Jewish Year, I hope we practice independent thinking around our values and how to improve upon civilization with curiosity and kindness. Let’s practice disagreeing respectfully. Let’s not suppress others’ opinions or concerns about the issues that keep us all up at night, but rather try to understand where they are coming from. It is absolutely AOK to deeply disagree about the way to build a better world. It is not acceptable to discount one another’s humanity or intelligence in the process.

The Talmud presents a desirable illustration of how to be in disagreement. In making legal decisions, the authors of the Talmud had to sometimes win an argument and sometimes lose one. Minority opinions are always recorded in the text and often become important decades and centuries later when conditions change. The Talmud records: “These and these are the words of the living God.” An argument won or lost is not the end of the story. Living together, sometimes humbly and sometimes proudly, but living together…that is the end of the story. That is what we ought to aspire to manifest in our congregation.

~~ Rabbi Hershenson’s office hours are by appointment. If you would like to set up an appointment, please contact her by email at: johannahershenson@gmail.com, or by phone/text at 541-213-9880.