ON BEING AN AMERICAN: WHEN HATE SPEECH HITS HOME

As I write this, it is the midterm elections in the United States. Nothing is more American than voting and I see myself as a patriotic American.

I have voted in every election since I turned 18. My first election, soon after my September birthday, was a presidential election. My candidate won and I was filled with a sense of hope for America. Since then, I have voted in every election that I could. Every primary. Every special election. Every regular election. I originally registered as an Independent, but soon changed my party affiliation to Democratic. As a New York City resident, the Democratic primary is often the election. Most years I vote Democratic. Sometimes there are candidates running against each other that I don’t like and I don’t vote for anyone.

As a Jew, I never saw myself in conflict with my being an American. When I was a kid, we used to ponder, “If Israel went to war with the United States, what side would I be on?” We didn’t understand what a ridiculous question this was, but we were kids. I never felt that my Judaism was in conflict with my being an American. (Even though I am a Hawk on Israel, I don’t agree with everything that that the current government does.) And I’ve never personally felt being a Jew in America was dangerous. That was until the election of 2016. That was until ralliers yelled, “Jews will not replace us.” That was until white supremacists marched with torches Charlottesville. That was until a gunman slaughtered 11 Jews on a Fall Shabbat morning in Pittsburgh.

As most of my friends and colleagues know, I am active on Facebook. I am not easy to find as I use a pseudonym. I post about all types of things. After the murders in Pittsburgh, a friend wrote that the President had blood on his hands. Someone asked why and I wrote that the deaths were because of the President’s ugly rhetoric. This person, whom I do not know, responded:

Of all the filthy Judenrat on the planet, you are by far the most evil. How anyone could call you a rabbi is simply sickening. I’d pay to see you fed to the hyenas.

You are why people had [hate] Jews you filthy pig.

There were a few other things and then a picture of a noose. I did not respond and my friend blocked him. Unfortunately, I did not take a screen shot of the post, but I did get one of the private messages he sent me with some of the same content. I’ve reported him and did not respond. I am not worried that this man that I do not know is going to come after me. I do worry that he is spreading hate across social media and causing fear in others. I don’t live in fear from my Judaism. But I do live in fear for where this country is headed.

I know that it has been said a billion times this season, but our only recourse is voting. Voting like our lives depends on it. Voting as if our future depends on it. Voting no matter how much our feet hurt.

Hillel taught “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5). We are not supposed to stand ideally by as our government moves. We are meant to be part of it.

Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). We need to be part of the community.

As I was writing this, I took a break to go vote. In the middle of the day, my Greenwich Village polling place had a long line. There are no really contested elections in my district. It would be shocking if the incumbents and Democrats did not win. But like me, my neighbors said, it is our job to stand up and make our views heard in our vote. As Jews were are required to participate in our government. As Americans we are too. Do your job. Vote!

About Gail F. Nalven

Jewish Educator, Rabbi, Tefillah Leader, Songleader, Teacher, and Freelance Jew
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