PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – October 2016
Recently two articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times regarding American Judaism and its response to the current immigration controversy. The first, which ran on September 17, was entitled Family separation and refugee cap reinvigorate Jews’ activist roots: ‘We’ve always been immigrants.’ The article described rallies across the country, and joined Jews of all denomination, against the government’s crackdown on immigration. It also recounted the long history of American Jewish social activism regarding immigration restriction dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. As one leader observed, such activism is “perhaps the oldest social cause that Jews took up and one that almost all supported.”
The second article appeared on September 28, was entitled ‘None of us are prophets’: After a turbulent year, L.A. rabbis wrestle with the politics of faith. This article examined the split of opinion of local rabbis over whether speaking out on issues of gun violence and immigration policies is an abuse of rabbinic authority, or if failing to do so is “a heresy.”
American Jews are not politically homogenous. The old expression “two Jews, three opinions” applies to our views on many issues, including immigration, economics, Israeli internal politics, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. It is not always an Orthodox vs. Conservative vs. Reform matter. Within congregations there are strong differences of opinion which can even divide congregations and destroy them. Congregations also exist within larger communities and neighbors can and will make their feelings known.
Temple Beth Emet is not immune from opposing views, from both within the congregation and the community. Over the years, Rabbi Mark has had to be careful when addressing current events and had received an earful when something he had said crossed somebody else’s line. We have received complaints when a post on our marquee upset a neighbor. “Stay out of politics, stick to religion” one neighbor warned. We have even received “warnings” about our tax-exempt status, not from the IRS, but from irritated neighbors. For the record, taking stances on social issues that have entered the arena of political discussion is allowed. We are prohibited from supporting or opposing a particular candidate for office. Religious organizations can even criticize votes and official actions of incumbents, although as elections draw nearer such activities face closer scrutiny.
While Temple Beth Emet is not going looking for a fight, my reaction to the admonition “stay out of politics, stick to religion” begs the question. Politics reflects a view of morality and ethics. Religion’s stock in trade is morality and ethics.
On Yom Kippur morning, we will read from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He tells the people that Adonai does not want the people’s fasting, chest beating, and confessions if the people continue to just tend to their business while allowing oppression and injustice to continue.
When we talk about homelessness and immigration rights, we are not talking politics, we are talking Torah. Again and again Adonai commands us to treat the stranger with dignity and provide for the poor, because, as also stated over and over again, “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
As a formerly enslaved people, as a people persecuted through the centuries since and as a people almost annihilated more than once, we must understand that “never again” does not belong to us exclusively and we must act accordingly.
Isaiah has a very important message for us. It is not enough to pray, to fast, to beat our chests reciting Ashamnu, or sing along with Barbara Streisand’s Avinu Malkeinu. Adonai, Isaiah is instructing us, is saying “This is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry and to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.”
This is not politics, this is Judaism.
May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life for another year.
— IRA L. GOLDSTEIN, President