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Why Rabbis and Shuls Shouldn’t “Get Political”

politics

There’s a relatively new trend in American society that I think is doing us great harm. Everything is becoming political.

We’ve seen it with Nike weighing in on the kneeling debate, Grubhub’s CEO telling his employees that Trump voters should resign, [solidcore]’s owner speaking out about Ivanka Trump, restaurants refusing to serve various politicians, and more. Companies and groups whose missions have absolutely nothing to do with politics are increasingly beginning to publicly endorse (or reject) political parties and candidates. These actions are accelerating the already brutal polarization in this country by denying people respite from politics and the daily dysfunction in Washington. There is, however, one place that I strongly feel should remain apolitical and sacred (pun-intended): synagogue.

Don’t Get Political

What do I mean by “get political”? Increasingly, I’ve noticed a pattern in which rabbis will reference and implicitly endorse or reject certain political candidates, or disparagingly reference a political party using sweeping generalization. Before the 2016 election, some rabbis even had the gall to say “and that’s why it’s so important that we go to the polls to ensure that [x] candidate is elected!” Worse yet, I know a number of people who – in the fallout from the 2016 election – argued that their shul shouldn’t allow members of certain political parties or supporters of certain candidates to even attend the shul.

This, to me, is a complete and utter catastrophe, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our country is currently bitterly divided across a variety of lines, arguably more so than at any time since the Civil War. Intentionally fracturing ourselves further – not just by denomination, but additionally by political affiliation – is a truly awful idea. Shul should be, and indeed needs to be, a place where Jews can come together and pray, regardless of how they look, where they come from, or who they vote for.

In addition, rabbis are, in many ways, the original teachers and therapists. As any good teacher knows, you’re supposed to teach your students how to think, not what to think. Explicitly telling congregants who to vote for or what policies to endorse completely flies in the face of this basic principle. Relatedly, how could any congregant feel comfortable seeking religious or personal advice from a rabbi who consistently bashes their party or views? This type of proselytization is very likely to unnecessarily alienate certain members of the congregation.

Finally, synagogues have the potential to serve as one of the few places where people of differing ideologies can still come together and engage in productive discussions around important issues. In today’s society, there are precious few opportunities for us to actually do this; debates and discussions – whether they take place in person or on social media – quickly turn to vitriol and ad hominems, instead of respectful dialogue. It would truly be a shame for synagogues to squander such potential by further atomizing themselves in an already tiny and heterogeneous community.

The Counterpoints

I know that this is not a popular argument, especially among my age group. Therefore, I want to take a moment to address some potential objections:

Some people will undoubtedly make the seemingly-reasonable argument that “if 90% of a shul votes a certain way or belongs to a certain party, doesn’t the rabbi have not only a right, but in fact a responsibility to cater to their stances and views?” While this seems logical on the surface, the answer is a resounding “no”. Jews have always been the “stranger in a strange land.” Even in this country today – which arguably offers the most tolerant environment for Jews in history outside the state of Israel – Jews comprise less than 2% of the population. We know what it’s like to be the minority in the room, the country, and the world. It would show a remarkable lack of self-awareness to submit the minorities in our own community to that same treatment.

Worse yet, some people might actually believe that their rabbis hold the Objective Right Answer to various moral and political questions, giving that rabbi license to pontificate. It would take immense hubris and shortsightedness to believe that there are objective Jewish “right answers” to most modern elections and policy issues. Part of what makes Judaism unique from most other religions is that Jews have been arguing about the meaning of the Torah and how best to apply it to their everyday lives for centuries. There’s a rich history in Judaism of chavruta study – being paired with someone with whom you disagree on almost every issue. This is done not to torment people, but because any question with a clear and easy answer isn’t really worth discussing. Important issues, especially political ones, are almost never clear-cut, and to believe the opposite shows a genuine lack of nuance and historical perspective.

Finally, some might argue that it is a rabbi’s prerogative to discuss and endorse whatever they want; if you don’t like it, you can find another shul. While rabbis should indeed enjoy wide leeway in what they discuss in their drashes (speeches), this is a remarkably cold and unwelcoming stance to take. Of course rabbis will inevitably infuse their own views on Judaism and society into their speeches; that is what gives each drash its unique flavor. If you strongly disagree with a rabbi or shul’s approach to Judaism, it may indeed make sense for you to think about switching to another one. But I fear the day when congregants will have to additionally weigh the politics of the shul, even if they agree with the shul’s approach to Judaism itself. This is particularly problematic in more rural areas, where shuls don’t grow on trees. It is profoundly unfair to the members of those communities to add yet another barrier to attending.

The Better Approach

What, then, should shuls and rabbis preach? Am I arguing that they should create a moratorium on discussing politics and current events? Absolutely not. Some of the best drashes I can remember discussed modern issues from a Jewish perspective, which is part of what made them fascinating and relevant. The crux of the issue – which is admittedly a fine line to walk – is that rabbis should teach the principles, history, and ethics of Judaism, without explicitly telling congregants what to do (or – in this case – how to vote).

As educators, rabbis should follow the etymological and historical traditions of the word “education” itself. Education comes from the Latin ducere (to lead) and ex (out), because the idea of education is to help lead out the thoughtfulness and creativity that students are capable of. This is exactly what rabbis should be aiming to do for their congregants: they should provide a solid grounding in the Jewish tradition and Jewish ethics, but allow their congregants to use that background to interpret the choices and dilemmas that their personal lives will inevitably bring. They should lay out the ingredients, but not “bake the cake,” so to speak. If rabbis can do this, they can create a more productive, inclusive environment for people of various ideological backgrounds, one that can serve as an example to the rest of the country and the world. Jews lead the country and the world in so many respects. I would love to see us start doing so in the realm of political tolerance.

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eliAbout the Author: Eli  Feldman is the Research Associate to the President at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan non-profit that defends student and faculty rights on college campuses. Eli graduated from Yale in 2016 with a degree in psychology.  Eli is an alumni of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, from which he launched the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC), a club for Jewish 20s/30s to discuss articles about a range of important topics. He is passionate about sports, music, coding, politics, free speech, Marvel movies, and tech.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

GatherDC Midterm Election Guide 2018

In case exercising your civic duty, the fear of being shamed by your friends, and/or standing up for things you believe in have all failed to persuade you to get out the vote for the 2018 midterms… I now offer you the lure of FREE THINGS you get if you vote. Yes folks, the day everyone’s been waiting for is finally upon us, and DC restaurants and businesses are ready to CELEBRATE!  

Check out our guide for a comprehensive list of all the sweet deals out there for civic-minded Washingtonians (as well as some of the best places to watch the returns roll in tomorrow).

Know of something we missed? Let us know in the comments!

vote

Most important: getting to the polls.

Lyft, Uber, Zipcar, and Lime are all offering free or discounted rides to polling places using special election day promo codes. Go into the apps day-of and they will provide the code/necessary information to GET TO THE POLLS!

“I Voted” Sticker Lunch Deals and Discounts

  • Bayou Bakery Coffee Bar & Eatery: 15% off purchases of $10 or more to anyone wearing an “I Voted” sticker
    Bobo’s: Get a coupon for a free vegan, gluten-free oat bar by sharing that you voted on social media. To get a coupon mailed to you, tag @eatbobos and use #GetOatTheVote.
  • Buffalo & Bergen: 50% off all breakfast orders until 4pm with an “I Voted” sticker
  • Buttercream Bakeshop: Free cookie for first 100 people with “I Voted” stickers
  • California Tortilla: Say “I voted” Tuesday and get a free order of chips and queso with any purchase.
  • Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop: $1 off any sub Tuesday.
  • Chameleon Cold-Brew: Get a voucher for a free 10-ounce Chameleon Cold-Brew when posting a selfie with your “I Voted” sticker on Instagram. To get the freebie, tag @ChameleonColdBrew and use #FuelTheVote.
  • Corner Bakery Cafe: Receive a free brewed or cold brewed coffee with any purchase and “I Voted” sticker
  • Flywheel: The Dupont Circle & City Center locations are offering free classes during off-peak class time with your “I Voted” sticker or other proof of voting.
  • Junction Bakery and Bistro: Free 12-oz drip with “I Voted” sticker
  • Lil’ B Coffee & Eatery: 15% off all purchases of $10 or more with “I Voted” sticker
    Matchbox: Specials on pizza, wings, and meatballs, as well as all-day happy hour from open to close (or, 9pm if you live in Virginia) (sorry Virginia)
  • Shake Shack: For voting, get free fries with any purchase Tuesday. Either show an “I Voted” sticker or redeem with the code “ivoted” in the chain’s Shack App.
  • Soupergirl: 15% all purchases at their stores if you wear your “I Voted” sticker

Drink & Dinner Specials

  • Ambar: Happy Hour menu- beer, wine, cocktails, small plates- for $5 from 4-10pm
  • Ana: 20% off your check at District Winery’s restaurant
  • The Bird: $4 Moscow Muellers, as well as the “Mr. President” cocktail, a peach-infused Aperol, and prosecco confection with a cotton candy garnish
  • Bar Deco: $4 tacos and $7 Old Fashioneds and Manhattans on the third floor bar
  • Barrel: $1 old fashioned drinks from 4-8:30pm
  • Dino’s Grotto: Happy hour deals on antipasto and drinks with all-night election coverage
  • District Winery: 10% off check with “I Voted” sticker
  • The Dive Bar at Darlington House: No deals to start, but if the House flips to Democratic control, the bar will give out free shots; if both the House and the Senate flip, it will be an open bar until close. Talk about a nerve-wracking night.
  • Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill: $1 off two cocktails
  • Exiles Bar: $6 whiskey drink with three choices of Jameson
  • Logan Tavern: Free campaign trail mix with “I Voted” sticker and happy hour prices and election coverage from noon to close
  • Mission Navy Yard: $5 patron shots, $7 margaritas, $8 quesadillas, and more TVs than you could ever hope to watch at once to watch the results come in
  • Pitchers DC: Free drink with an “I Voted” sticker, with political bingo and prizes
  • Pizzeria Paradiso: Themed pizzas and beer specials to celebrate the women running for office across the country
  • Rare Tavern: All-night happy hour starting at 4pm, including drink specials, seafood steampots, dollar oysters, and classic bar foods with a twist
  • Ritz Carlson Tysons: 1 free cocktail with called “Where The Left And Right Meet”

Hot Spots to Watch the Results

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Harry: Jewish Hill Staffer of the Week!

harry

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Harry: I’m from New York. I originally moved here for college at GW, and bounced around for a few years before coming back for law and policy school.

Allie: What are the biggest differences between New York and DC?

Harry: I miss New York pizza. But I’m very happy in DC, it’s a very livable city with a lot of hidden gems. You meet people from all over the world who speak about issues that matter.

Allie: I hear you work for the U.S. House of Representatives. What triggered your passion for politics?

Harry: I don’t like politics. I like policy. I don’t like the process of duking it out to make some ideological point. I like it when we can use our collective resources to make people’s lives better. This is very much about doing what’s right and helping people.

harry

Harry’s dreamed of being the Jewish Hill Staffer of the Week for quite some time now.

Allie: What is your dream day in DC from start to finish?

Harry: I would get out of DC and hike Old Rag.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax at the end of a long work week?

Harry: I really enjoy spending time with friends – hiking, traveling, going on road trips, doing yoga.

Allie: What is one place you really want to travel to?

Harry: The next two trips I’m thinking of doing are to Guatemala and Thailand. I’m very much looking forward to those. Traveling is probably my favorite thing to do. I like the sense of freedom, the adventure of pushing myself, and rediscovering the humanity in others.

Allie: Who is your role model?

Harry: Without a doubt, it’s John Lewis. He is a civil rights icon who was nearly murdered while fighting for the right to vote. It was partially through his advocacy that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and he’s now been a member of Congress for quite some time. He is a strong moral voice, that unfortunately we need a lot of right now.

Allie: What is a skill you want to learn this year?

Harry: My goal for the year is to learn how to use chopsticks.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Harry: Things get interesting.

harry

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Jewish Politician of the Week: Andrew!

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

Get to know Mr. Andrew Friedson, AKA: beloved Uncle Drew, diehard Caps fan, DC-area native, and future county council member? Only the votes will tell.

andrew friedson

Allie: Is this the first time you’ve run for political office?

Andrew: If you don’t count student government! I was SGA Treasurer, Vice President and then President of Hoover Middle School, and then student body president of Churchill High School and University of Maryland.

Allie: Where does your passion for politics come from?

Andrew: I view public service not as a career choice, but as a calling.

When I was in 5th grade at Wayside Elementary School, I saw an issue with the bus route where there was a blindspot on one of the turns. I tried to tell the school principal, but she wouldn’t meet with me. So, I stopped her  in the hallway and explained it to her on a note pad. She said, “Andrew, the Montgomery County Board of Transportation made these bus routes, and I think they are up to par.” A week later there was a major bus crash at that turn.

An article about this crash was published in the Potomac Almanac. I cut it out and pinned it to my cork-board in my bedroom, and had it there my entire childhood. It became my north star. If you see something, you should say something. If there’s a wrong, you should try to right it. This sense of obligation drove me then, and does still.

friedson and his bro at good deeds day

My brother (and new dad!) Matthew and I at The Jewish Federation’s Good Deeds Day

Allie: What celebrity would you most want to be your campaign manager?

Andrew: Natalie Portman! She’s awesome.

Allie: Did the 2016 presidential election motivate you to run?

Andrew: I have the same frustration, anger, and disgust as many do about some of the things that are happening as a result of the last presidential election, but I didn’t need Trump to get elected for me to get involved in politics. That election has helped galvanize people to get involved in politics who were not engaged before, and who now finally see just how important it is. Unfortunately, there is a saying in politics that there are two motivators – ambition and fear. We hope we have leaders that are playing more to people’s ambitions for a better world than to people’s fears. But, when there is a fear of our values being threatened, it’s encouraging to know that people are willing to stand up for them.

Allie: What would be your ultimate dream job?

Andrew: When I was little I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I realize this is not a totally normal thing for a kid to want to do. It turned out I wasn’t that good at science and wasn’t interested in being in school for that long. But, I was able to speak at the groundbreaking for the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center. I felt like this was the closest I would ever come to realizing my dream.

I was actually at Shady Grove Medical Center Shady Grove just yesterday because my sister-in-law was having a baby (MAZEL!), and passed by the cancer center.

Right now though, my dream job is to be the Montgomery County Council Member.

Also, in a fantasy world, I’d love to be the General Manager of the Caps, and on Facebook, sometimes I pretend that I am!

Allie: Has your Jewish identity shaped your platform at all?

Andrew: From the time I was really young, I’ve felt a strong obligation to help community. This is a value I learned from my parents growing up in a Jewish household. My focus on making sure we don’t leave anybody behind and having a high quality of education are core Jewish values. I’ve also always had this burning desire to improve the world – tikkun olam. I used to think of this in a much more global sense, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to view it in a more Jewish context, that saving just one person is like saving the whole world. That’s why I love state and local politics, where you have the chance to change the world one person, one community, one specific problem at a time.

Allie: Do you have a favorite memory from the campaign trail?

Andrew: I was canvassing, going door-to-door in a neighborhood, and It was really hot. I decided to walk into a nearby market to grab a cold drink. When I was walking in, I saw a piece of campaign literature with my name and face taped to the window, and saw one of my yard signs out front. All of a sudden the store owner looked up at me and he looked at the picture and shouted, “You’re my guy!” His name is Weldon, and I had never met him before that.

taste of bethesda

On the campaign trail

Allie: What are the biggest issues you want to help out with as County Council Member?

Andrew: I’m most focused on education, transportation, and economic development. If we can get these three things right, they’ll have the biggest impact on improving people’s lives.

Allie: What’s the best and worst thing about campaigning?

Andrew: Running a campaign is basically like running a small business that all coalesces on one day, so there is definitely pressure. But, I love campaigning. I enjoy getting up in the morning often, and not going to bed at night. I get energy from meeting people, learning what they care about, and discussing how how address the challenges we face.

Allie: Do you have a favorite quote you like to live by?

Andrew: I have two:

  1. “If I am not for myself, then who will be or me? If I am for myself only, then what am I? And if not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
  2. “It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Allie: It seems like you keep yourself  VERY busy. When (and if) you have free moments, how do you like to spend them?

Being Uncle Drew

Andrew: I love spending time with my nieces and nephews as their Uncle Drew. I have 8, which includes one who was just born, and they all live in this area.

Allie: Are there any interesting facts that people may not know about you?

Andrew: I cracked my head open twice as a kid when I was asleep, I just rolled over and hit the nightstand! 

Allie: If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?

Andrew: 1) Good health for my family. 2) Every student in Montgomery County is able to show up to kindergarten ready to learn, so they’re not left behind before they even have a chance to start. 3) Every young person who goes to school feels and is safe.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Andrew: Exciting things happen.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

What Are Your Priorities For the District?

jufj new color_logoThe opinions reflected in this article do not represent the views of Gather the Jews or its staff. GTJ is a non-partisan organization.

Jews United For Justice is doing something unprecedented (as far as we know): We’re asking Jewish residents of D.C. about their views on a range of local political issues. We want to know what you, the estimated 25,000 voting age Jews in Washington D.C., care about. We’re bringing these issues to the forefront in the April 1st primary elections.

That’s why we’re asking you to take our 2014 D.C. Issue Survey! The survey asks for your opinion on challenges facing our city, like affordable housing, fighting poverty, and progressive taxes. We’ll bring your responses to the candidates, and make sure this is an issues-based election.

This is a powerful way to show just how progressive our community is. Often we have to fight hard at the D.C. government for progressive change – even when those changes are extremely popular with voters. Now is the time when candidates are most open to hearing our voices, and most likely to respond to the people they hope to represent. That’s why we need you to share your opinion right now.

Thank you!

Nathaniel Eisen
Online Organizer, Jews United For Justice