06 November 2020
As I write this, the results of the presidential election are crystallizing but remain unclear. We do not yet have an official call about the path our country will travel. Looking past our borders, we see European cities reeling from terror attacks, people in Nigeria and Poland standing up in protest, and the coronavirus surging once again.
In a moment such as this one, it is easy to feel like what happens next is out of our hands. Most of us are not members of congress or attorneys general, public health experts or leaders of social movements. And while many of us are actively engaged in a variety of issues, it may seem like we have limited control over the tumult in our country and our world. The choices that we will make as individuals over the coming days, months, and years, however, will be critical in shaping our lives and our country.
The electoral map and razor thin margins between the candidates have underscored the extent of the division we face, and the work we have to do as members of a civil society in need of repair. Elections are important. They are critical in determining leadership and shaping policy but they are insufficient when it comes to binding a country or community together. As Yuval Levin writes in The New York Times, the long-term, systemic changes we all crave may be precipitated not by sweeping policy initiatives but by the much humbler work of reestablishing the connection and openness we have with one another.
Will we introduce ourselves to the neighbor we still have never met? Will we get to know the store clerks, delivery people, and others who are part of our daily lives? Will we go out of our way to turn political arguments into political conversations? Will we seek ways to highlight our commonalities rather than merely our differences? Will we practice looking for the dignity in everyone no matter their views? These are the kinds of decisions that may feel inconsequential in the moment but that, on a mass scale, serve as prerequisites to addressing the challenges we face.
Fortunately, finding ways to translate sacred teachings to the mundane moments in our lives has been the work of Jews since we stood together at Sinai. Indeed, as Richard Just of The Washington Post recently wrote, Jews, and all those who subscribe to a faith tradition, have a head start and a special obligation when it comes to repairing the rifts in our country. Just argues that if we apply the same humility, uncertainty, and wonder that we have cultivated in our faith to the public square as well, we might just be able to heal American democracy.
Whatever the approach may be, we at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington want to help bring our community together to examine the unique intersection of Jewish identity and civic obligation. To that end, we are proud to continue our partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute for a series of public talks on this topic. I hope you will join us for our first conversation on November 24 when we will look at the presidential election and what it means for the Jewish community.
Many of us have strong beliefs about who and how our country should be governed. But no matter who wins, we still have the office of community member to uphold. It will be us as individuals who determine the strength of civil society and how best to serve as each other’s keepers. This work is slow going, but it is, and has always been, the path to a brighter future. To borrow phrasing from President Kennedy, all this will not be finished in the next four years nor even perhaps in the next forty. But let us, as a community, begin.