Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
For me the results of the presidential election were devastating. I was so concerned about the racist and Anti-Semitic undertones of the Trump campaign that I volunteered to canvas for HRC in a battleground state for a week before the election. I spent a week canvassing neighborhoods in SW Las Vegas and meeting wonderful, committed and idealistic persons of all ages as canvassing partners. It was a great experience, but a crushing result.
I did not want to write in the first twenty four hours after the election since I was overcome by the demons of astonishment. I needed some time to start getting perspective. Because I am a student of history, I feel the echoes of past historic elections and transitions. But I also know that facile comparisons can mislead and confuse. But of this I am sure. We have just experienced a political earthquake of huge proportions. We are entering a time of uncertainty and possibly a period of great chaos.
Given Mr. Trump’s dangerous and hateful rhetoric throughout the year and one half of his campaign, I am deeply alarmed at the prospect of his presidency. But I do heed President Obama’s wise words, that we must have a “presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens.” In rabbinic parlance we say concerning Trump, “Kab’dehu v’Chash’dehu”, Honor him (or the office he is about to occupy, but suspect (scrupulize) him. Let us be vigilant. Let us be alert, Let us watch carefully for statements and actions that endanger our liberal democracy.
The next few days and weeks is a time like the month of Ellul before the High Holidays when we are supposed to do a Heshbon Hanefesh-an accounting of our souls. I believe a special Heshbon Hanefesh is called for, a collective one and a personal one. How did we get here? Why are we so polarized? Why are people so angry? What did we contribute to digging the silos that litter our political landscape.
In a week I will be ending my year of chanting the mourner’s kaddish for my beloved father, Allan Gartenberg. My father was a man of strong beliefs and moderate in temperament. He was extraordinarily humble and always made room for others. Most of all he was the greatest listener and empath that I have ever known. In essence he was a hospitable man, aware of others and always ready to hear their stories. I have been asking myself how he would have responded to the outcome of this election?
I believe that my father would listen and seek to understand others. He would reach out to those in pain and fear. He would act hospitably.
I see a deep connection between the way I was raised by my father and the organization I founded, Panim Hadashot. Panim Hadashot-New Faces is an emergent Jewish community committed to the Jewish teachings of hospitality. While we reflect on this moment, I believe a renewed commitment to hospitality is a very powerful way to act in these times when the fear of the other has come to dominate our political discourse. To practice Jewish hospitality is to share our Shabbat tables with “new faces”. I believe we should seek out new faces, Jews of different backgrounds, non-Jews of different communities, persons with differing views on the issues of the day. Hospitality is the Jewish way of affirming pluralism and inclusion. It is a way of conducting conversation, of listening, and learning from one another.
In this fascinating story that appeared in the Washington Post on October 15th LINK, we learn about a prodigy of the White Supremacist Movement who is exposed to a wider world by a Jewish peer who intentionally invites him to his Shabbat table so he can meet real people from other backgrounds. Shabbat after Shabbat he is exposed to new views and real people. His prejudices melt as he comes to see the humanity of people he had once denied.
Practicing hospitality is both a moral and spiritual act in these scary times. I hope you will join us by becoming a hosting partner in Panim Hadashot and building your hospitality practice. Let us welcome the other and share our humanity and our hope.