Much has been written in these past couple of weeks since President Trump’s outrageous charge that one cannot be a Democrat and a loyal Jew. I do not want to get into that. He’s been told. When I was growing up in the previous century (sounds crazy to say that) my parents were very clear. To be a Jew meant voting for the Democratic Party (because they care about people) and being a Brooklyn Dodger fan (because they are the underdogs) until they betrayed us and moved to Los Angeles. That particular loyalty was later switched to the hapless Mets whose original team had several former ageing Dodger players on their roster. Seems the original owners of the Mets remembered the meaning of loyalty.
In every negative there is a positive. The positive of the President’s accusation is that all across the Jewish community the question of what it means to be a loyal Jew has become a topic of lively conversation. And the timing could not be better. You see, as my last blog reported, we are in the seven week period prior to the High Holy Days in which we are meant to reflect on our relationship with God in an effort to strengthen and renew the connection—to God, to our faith, to our people.
When I was in the pulpit, so often community members would contritely tell me, “Rabbi, I am not a very good Jew. I only go to synagogue on the High Holy Days.” I would respond with something like, “Do you give tzedakah? Are you good to your parents? Have you provided your children with an education? Are you fair and honest with your clients? Do you pay your workers on time? And by the way, thanks for coming!” The point was clear. Being a “good” or “loyal” Jew is NOT dependent on any one thing; it is many things, many values that we cherish and endeavor to live by. We say there are 613 commandments—613 opportunities to create a Jewish connection. No one, no matter how pious, no matter how “loyal” can do them all. Each of us picks and chooses the ways to express our commitment and loyalty and no one, not even a president, can tell us what is in our hearts. This time of year is the perfect moment to reflect on what is truly most important in our lives. To reflect on whom we say we are and the life we are living; to clarify our values as well as our priorities.
Loyalty does not equal agreement, at least not all of the time. As a loyal friend, I will tell my friend, loud and clear, when I think he or she is making a mistake, going in the wrong direction. To be silent in the face of injustice or wrongdoing is not loyalty, never was, never will be. And when someone criticizes the government of Israel, it does not automatically mean he or she is an anti-Semite, disloyal, or a self-hating Jew. Actually, most of the time it means they care, they are not indifferent, they are not as the Torah forbids us, “standing idly by.”
I love Israel and I love this country. That is not “dual loyalty” any more than loving both my parents was dual loyalty. Life is complicated and nuanced. Not all choices are binary, either/or; many choices in life are yes/and. And because I love both countries I want them to live up to their self-declared highest values and ideals, just as I push myself to do, especially at this time of year. I hope you are doing the same.