Strife in families
Ignoring and unfriending friends in real life and on Facebook
These are only a few of the consequences that our polarized country and American Jewish community have dealt with through the course of a long, contentious presidential campaign culminating in the election of Donald Trump.
Jewish sources tell us that the 2nd Temple was destroyed because of “baseless hatred.” What is “baseless” hatred? It is hate without a cause, where one can hate the essence of an individual because of what he or she represents. This approach does not have any room for empathy or understanding because one cannot get past his or her own ego and ideals.
My hope is that mental health professionals can step in to help our synagogues, JCC’s, and schools benefit from their skills. For example, mental health professionals could help Jewish communities identify a constructive way of reaching across the political divide. We need to be able to speak with one another to understand the perspective of Jews who arrived at different choices in the polling station. We need to learn how to maintain respect and friendship with those with whom we strongly disagree. Mental health professionals could give space and support for those who feel that they are witnessing democracy eroding in front of their very eyes. This is a scary and sensitive time for many Jews in this country who are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors or whose families came to this country as refugees. How do we relate to a President who, by all appearances, has such antipathy to the needs of today’s refugees–refugees who reflect the journeys we ourselves have traveled?
We need to work on ourselves to create strategies for opposing the anti-Semitism that exists on the left and the right of the political spectrum. We have been complacent for too long. This issue needs to be exposed and discussed in mainstream Jewish society.
Growing up in the DC area in the 80’s and 90’s, I was under the impression that the Jewish community was unified through support of Israel, Free Soviet Jewry campaign, and through the generous programing of the Jewish Federation. In the past 10 years, I have witnessed the polarization that the State of Israel has caused our young people; only to see an exacerbation of this situation during the ascendency of President Trump. As a communal Jewish professional, I am aware how institutions walk a fine line balancing our 4,000 year old history with staying relevant. Now we have both a dire need and unique opportunity to face the realities before us: polarization, anti-Semitism, Zionism, welcoming the stranger, being a light onto nations, among others. We have a greater need than ever to respectfully bring the fragments together and to learn the tools that will enable us to stitch ourselves back together.
Julie Tonti is a Jewish educator living in Northern Virginia.