What a Liberal Rabbi Learned at the Trump Hanukkah Party

Rabbi David Kaufman and his wife, Julie, attending the White Home Hanukkah party in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2017. (Courtesy of Kaufman)


A Jewish lady walks into the article workplace to purchase Hanukkah stamps for her holiday getaway cards.

The individual behind the counter asks, “What denominations?”

The Jewish female responds, “Oy! Are we so polarized? Some Orthodox, some Conservative and some Reform.”

Indeed, we are so polarized, both equally religiously and politically. Most reports about the White Home Hanukkah social gathering noted that leaders of the Reform motion and congressional Democrats had been not invited. Whereas the Obama administration invited 1,700 people today to two Hanukkah parties very last year, the Trump administration invited a mere 300 to one particular these types of party.

Between them was just one politically impartial Reform rabbi from Des Moines, Iowa — me.

How in the entire world did I get an invitation?

I bought on the list for the reason that I arrived at out to another person I understood in the administration when advocating for the State Office to maintain the posture of exclusive envoy to overcome anti-Semitism. Before this year there were being conversations that the posture would be eradicated, and I and a lot of some others were being urging the White Home to reconsider.

I did not scream and yell. I did not connect with everyone names. I produced a case for why that placement was and is essential, and questioned that my take note be forwarded to whomever would be ready to impact the determination. The situation was formally retained, nevertheless as of yet no a person has been nominated to fill it and that may possibly not come about for a though for a longer period.

A handful of months just after I sent the electronic mail, out of the blue I acquired a phone from anyone at the White Dwelling inviting me to the Hanukkah social gathering. I understood it would be a easy make a difference to drop the invitation. I was presently going to be away that day at a conference. But it isn’t each and every day that 1 is invited to a occasion at the White Household. President Obama held 9 Hanukkah functions and I was not invited to any of them.

Who else was invited?

This year, a major proportion of people invited were being Jewish buddies and kinfolk of the Trump and Kushner family members, with a big proportion of the rest seemingly connected to the Zionist Corporation of America or the Republican Jewish Coalition. I’m guaranteed several visitors fell into all 3 categories.

A team of women from a area yeshiva choir and their chaperones arrived to sing. Two Republican customers of Congress attended, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The Israelis on hand included the U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer. Supreme Courtroom Justice Stephen Breyer and a handful of countrywide Jewish community leaders had been there, also. A bulk of the attendees seemed to be Orthodox Jews, with quite a few affiliated with Chabad.

At the time my spouse and I approved the invitation, I experienced no concept just how unique the visitor record was. I arrived at out to several mates who I figured would be significantly better up on the priority list than I. No a person I contacted was invited. I did not know that I would be the only Reform rabbi in attendance, it’s possible the only Reform or Conservative rabbi, and undoubtedly one particular of a pretty modest range of invitees who are not registered Republicans. Of those people who are outspoken supporters of social brings about ordinarily found on the political still left, I may possibly effectively have been the lone particular person invited.

What was the occasion like?

On the whole it was a comparatively ordinary Hanukkah party. There had been latkes and sufganiyot. The Maritime Band performed in the grand entryway and the girls’ choir sang “Mi Yemalel” (Who Can Retell?)  at the commencing of the official method.

The president advised a model of the Hanukkah tale and boasted about his announcement a working day previously to understand Jerusalem as Israel’s funds. A Holocaust survivor spoke of her encounters. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel offered the Orthodox variation of the prayer for the govt — with its uncomfortable references to God who grants “dominion to rulers” — and the much more fitting Shehecheyanu blessing. President Trump’s Jewish grandchildren kindled a solitary candle on a silver menorah. Guests joined in singing “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages). We did not say the traditional blessings since it was not however Hanukkah.

Other than a more compact group of VIPs, the extensive majority of company have been not authorized to interact with the president, Vice President Mike Pence or the Kushner loved ones, nor was there an chance for pictures to be taken with any of them.

Regardless of whether you blame Trump or his opponents, the political weather has rarely been so polarized. Previous year the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative actions debated no matter whether they must help manage a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference phone with Trump. When they declined (a conclusion I disagreed with), Trump held his individual call and did not invite the non-Orthodox rabbis. Just past 7 days, leading African-American leaders stayed absent from the opening of a civil legal rights museum in Mississippi for the reason that Trump would be using part.

If you’re asking yourself, leaders of the Reform movement, several other Reform rabbis and my congregation’s leadership, all of whom I explained to about the invitation, encouraged us to show up at.

Those who know me and the advocacy that I do comprehend properly that no politician or political occasion escapes my criticism. This administration is definitely no exception. But I engage civilly, even when many others do not appear close to returning the favor. My intention is usually to assist advance the causes dear to me, specially when people causes are beneath danger. I check out to be as present as I can and converse to whomever I can, even if my counsel finishes up currently being drowned out or overlooked.

Whilst most of the discuss at the Hanukkah get together was on Jewish geography and in help of the Jerusalem recognition, I mentioned to a handful of friends my issues about the absence of an anti-Semitism envoy,  and the prospective finances cuts and their impacts on well being care and starvation advocacy at the condition degree.

The best estimate about advocacy I know arrives from a sporting activities hero, hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “You overlook 100 percent  of the shots you really do not acquire.” If you do not engage in a way that could be prosperous in changing policy, if you do not talk to and make interactions with those people who may hear to you and impact other individuals, you will in no way be listened to and have a probability to impact policy.

Far also lots of people today acquire a different route, believing that it’s improved to scream in protest, identify phone, have interaction in advantage signaling and boycott rather than have interaction constructively and civilly with choice makers.

To paraphrase Gretzky, “One-hundred p.c of the candles you really don’t gentle keep unlit.”

This Hanukkah, permit us carry light and not darkness into our earth. Be present and get to out. Develop interactions. Don’t boycott. Go to. Share your light. The men and women whose hearts and minds are kindled could assist you to improve the environment.

(David Kaufman is the rabbi of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa.)


Notice: The views expressed listed here are these of the authors and do not always symbolize or reflect the sights of JBN

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