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On the Eve of a Consequential Election

On the eve of this consequential election, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this has been an exhausting, concerning, and in many ways, a disheartening presidential campaign that has gone on too long. Next week or soon after, we will have a President-elect who may or may not have a mandate, and will likely be rejected by a large number of people in our nation. This could be a recipe for yet another four years of Washington grid-lock, hateful speech about the “other side,” and a further deterioration of civility in our political process. It could even accelerate the deterioration of our democracy overall, which needs to be a concern for every American. Or, it can be the beginning of a time of healing and coming together. The choice is ours.

This is the perfect moment to make our children aware of the state of our nation and to demonstrate how Jewish values, and specifically our Schechter Core Values, can influence our choices and actions. I want to share with you some brief thoughts with the hope that they will help you to navigate and feel comfortable having a similar, age appropriate, conversation with your children about this important time in our lives.  

Prayer is one avenue that can have an impact on our actions. For me, prayer is a daily reminder of my priorities and values, as well as, a daily call to action. I try to internalize the prayers so that they actually influence how I think, and more importantly, how I act. For instance, at Shabbat morning services, our congregation recites a Prayer for our Country, the United States, from the Siddur Sim Shalom. In part the prayer reads:

“May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.”

When I read this prayer I not only believe that this is the vision of an ethical, monotheistic God, I also believe that it requires each one of us to take action in order for the prayer to become reality. Over the past few months of this campaign, and even these past four years, the Prayer for our Country has resonated with me much more powerfully because of the tone of this particular campaign season, the state of our country, and the concerns it has raised. 

The truth is, we can all do our part to help create a society, in America, where citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, where hatred and bigotry are banished, and where our democratic institutions are safeguarded. It takes the people – it takes us. After all, our government is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  

You may also want to choose one of Schechter’s Core Jewish Values to make connections between the election and what we value. For many, an obvious value is Tikkun Olam, Improving the World. At Schechter we define Tikkun Olam as inspiring our students to pursue peace, compassion, freedom, and equality and to make a difference by doing acts of Tzedek (Justice) and Gemilut Hasadim (Loving Kindness).  Another core value that seems particularly relevant is Kehillah Kedosha (Sacred Community). In part, we define Kehillah Kedosha as promoting positive, healthy relationships in an environment of mutual respect. Whether it is the Schechter Kehillah or our entire country, we can bring the “sacred” into our lives by constructing a society built on mutual respect that embraces the diversity of culture, religion, political affiliation, and thought. 

I encourage you to have a conversation with your children about how a prayer like The Prayer for our Country, or any number of our Jewish values, are relevant. Discuss together what you will do to help realize a vision for our country where all people are equal, and entitled to equal opportunities to pursue the ideals of the American dream.

Teach your children to take an active role in our democracy through the Jewish lens of our values. Making connections and engaging in specific reinforcing activities help our childrens’  learning to stick. 

Talk specifically about the actions that can make a difference such as voting, encouraging family and friends to vote, and writing and calling our politicians to demand that they bring civility back to our democratic process. We can implore that they take action that will work towards improving the lives of all of our fellow citizens. Depending on the age of your children, take them with you when you vote or deliver your ballot. Older children can make calls to relatives and friends to make sure that they voted and younger children can write letters with you.  A talk like this, with your children, brings the “sacred” into what could be an otherwise mundane conversation, and reminds us that we are empowered to make a difference by how we choose to act and speak.

9 Comments

  • Rabbi Moshe Edelman - October 29, 2020

    Shalom Mr. Friedman
    Yasher koach on this fine message to parents AND grandparents alike.
    I have often had occasion to encourage the value of “Kedusha” in my rabbinate and teaching. Using the letter “c” we can change from being sCared to act to rising to a level of saCred behavior. It is just where we put the “c”, or where we place ourselves.
    This is the time to place ourselves and our families and our parental responsibility in standing tall, acting honestly,behaving with dignity,speaking truth,teaching by example.
    SACRED not SCARED.
    Kol HaKavod to you and the entire SSDS

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - October 29, 2020

      Thank you Rabbi Edelman for your response and beautiful words! I agree – SACRED not scared!

      Reply
  • Hal Messer - October 29, 2020

    I agree whole-heartedly with you when you say “Whether it is the Schechter Kehillah or our entire country, we can bring the “sacred” into our lives by constructing a society built on mutual respect that embraces the diversity of culture, religion, political affiliation, and thought”.

    You loose me, however, is in the beginning when you say that we will have President-elect that we WILL have next week or shortly thereafter (as its a foregone conclusion) and if society doesn’t support him our democracy will be lost or it can be the beginning of Tikkun Olam and Tzedek if we embrace him.

    Obviously the results of the election should be respected by all and we should come together as a nation, although you clearly think there will not happen. So with this said, I have a simple question:

    Are you suggesting that people that do not agree with your political views lack Jewish Values and “specifically our Schechter Core Values”?

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - October 29, 2020

      Hi Hal –

      Thank you for your feedback. My blog has nothing to do with who gets elected. Eventually we will know whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden is the President for the next four years. I am concerned that no matter who it is, we could have a continuation of the toxic political climate that has been going on for too many years. My point was that regardless of who the next President is, through the words of the Prayer for the Government and our core values, we can change the trajectory of the discourse in our country. We get to choose through words and actions that reflect our core values to improve how we speak to each other and how we choose to treat each other – even when and if we disagree about certain issues. So whether it is Trump or Biden, I hope we can all work together, using our tradition as a guide to repair our country.

      Reply
      • Hal Messer - October 29, 2020

        I agree with your sentiment and agree that the toxic climate will continue no matter the outcome next week. I too hope we can realize that we have more that we probably agree on issues more than we disagree.

        Reply
  • Pascale - October 29, 2020

    Given this stressful climate we are all living in, this is definitely not the time to further alienate or push each other away regardless of who wins. Totally agree Hal and Mr. Freedman , we need to come together as a kehillah first and assure our kids they will be safe and not attacked regardless of what happens next week. They are already dealing with so much.

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - October 29, 2020

      Hi Pascale –

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. Couldn’t agree more – especially your comment about our kids. Regardless of who wins, our children need reassurance from us that they are safe and that our country will eventually calm down. History has taught us that we have been here before and I have hope we will make strides in becoming a better version of ourselves!

      Reply
  • Rabbi J.B. Sacks - October 31, 2020

    Yasher ko-ach for your thoughtful post.

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - November 1, 2020

      Thank you Rabbi Sacks!

      Reply

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