The Jewish concept of repentance hinges upon self-reflection. The centerpiece of the Yom Kippur service is vidui, or confession, of a litany of sins and transgressions. Because we understand that most of us have not personally committed most of the sins to which we confess, the confession makes sense only at a communal level. We reflect not only on ourselves as individuals, but also on ourselves as a community. As long as some Jew somewhere may have committed each sin, each member of the collective Jewish nation is prepared to atone.
Those of us who engage in political discussion, debate, media, and social media have our work cut out for us—both as individuals as visible representatives of that collective. Two aspects of that engagement call out for self-reflection and repentance. First, anyone who participates in the crude, coarse gutter that contemporary political discourse has become has undoubtedly said some things that would have better been left unsaid. Second, any identifiable Jew in the public eye contributes to the perception of Jewry within the broad American public.
As a community, our behavior over the past year has been shameful. We have demonstrated an utter lack of hakarat hatov—recognition of the good—the virtue of gratitude. The Jewish people have an uncommon friend and defender in the White House, and our communal response to his overtures has been repulsive.
President Trump is a controversial figure, and many of his policy positions are polarizing. Debates over immigration, trade, taxation, regulation, and the environment split the Jewish community much as they do the rest of America. When it comes to issues of particular concern to the Jewish community, however, the Trump record has been consistent, warm, supportive, and defensive—so much so, in fact, that he qualifies as among the greatest benefactors in our millennia of history. It would be a gross understatement to suggest that we, as a community, have not returned the favor.
The Trump Administration’s support for Israel has been stellar; America’s Jewish leadership has responded by keeping it at arms length. Trump’s insistence that the UN treat Israel with the same respect it does all other member states has been met largely with yawns from a Jewish leadership that—shockingly—preferred an Obama team that rode out of power branding Israel an international criminal. Trump’s recognition of full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan drew widespread Jewish indifference and more than a few sharp rebukes.
The President’s response to rising antisemitism has been bold and personal. He described last year’s synagogue shootings as attacks on all Americans. He elevated antisemitism to a leading national issue in his State of the Union Address—a commitment that has permeated his Administration, from Vice President Pence to the Departments of Justice and State. Prominent Jewish leaders, in turn, have disgracefully accused the President of antisemitism and white supremacism—and blamed him the increasing dangers facing our community.
President Trump has also assumed a position of world leadership on the protection of religious freedom—perhaps the single most important determinant of whether Judaism can survive outside the Jewish State. The response to these efforts among Jewish communal leadership ranges from apathetic to hostile.
Perhaps most appalling of all, however, two of our community’s most prominent members of Congress have set themselves up as inquisitors, harassing anyone who has helped President Trump’s election or governance. Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, represent large and important Jewish constituencies. These men hold themselves out as proud Jews, often feted for their communal leadership and their protection of Jewish interests on Capitol Hill.
Yet somehow, they have left such concerns behind. Neither one makes any pretense of serving their constituents, much less America’s Jews. They are both dedicated to a monomaniacal drive to remove President Trump from office. They have become deep, profound, painful embarrassments to the American Jewish community.
People notice. Recent headlines in Haaretz, the Forward, and the JTA have all trumpeted the Jewish role in the scurrilous attacks on the President. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mehdi Hasan—both vocal advocates for notorious antisemites if not antisemites themselves—immediately drew the connection. They very publicly tied the criticisms Schiff has earned as an individual to the broader Jewish community.
Granted, America’s Jewish community is blessed with more than a few voices, at least some of which have been outspoken in far more positive directions. But it is impossible to pretend that our prominent representatives and mainstream leaders do not speak for those of us who disagree with them. They do.
At the very moment that we need to engage in communal self-reflection, those leaders have given us a great deal on which to reflect. May we use this moment to repent as a collective, and instead to show President Trump the communal gratitude he has more than earned.