Word on the Street: Living by our values

September 27, 2015

Like me, many of you are no doubt still in a reflective mood following the High Holidays. I hope the holidays gave you time and space to contemplate. The challenge from my rabbis was to consider how to live throughout the year by the standards we establish for ourselves when we have time for introspection.

Coincidentally, as we reflected, the front pages presented two stark challenges for action – images of refugees desperately seeking safety in Europe and words of hate and xenophobia being trumpeted by Presidential candidates right here in the United States.

One of J Street’s core principles is, in fact, to try to put into action the values on which we were raised and that shape our identity.

In that spirit, as a small gesture in response to the European refugee crisis, we asked you – our members – to contribute to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the leading American Jewish organization dealing with refugees, and to support its work to address the crisis in Europe.

And we have been blown away by your response.

As I write, 500 J Street members have contributed $60,000. We thank you all so much for your generous contributions to our sister organization.

We also note that many other Jewish organizations have stepped forward to address this crisis as well with, among others, the Union for Reform Judaism encouraging rabbis to sermonize about the refugee crisis before Rosh Hashanah and Federations around the country urging members and donors to respond to the crisis.

The front pages have been dominated as well by news of the ugly, hateful rhetoric of two leading Republican presidential candidates – Donald Trump and Ben Carson about Muslim Americans.

Carson’s suggestion, half-heartedly retracted under pressure, that a Muslim could not be President of the United States crossed a red line of acceptable political discourse. So did Trump’s apparent tolerance of blatant Islamophobia from his supporters and his encouragement of the ridiculous notion that President Obama was not born in the United States.

Both of these men are stoking an ugly racism that festers in some corners of American society. The sentiments they express are at odds with core American precepts of religious tolerance and with America’s heritage as a land of immigrants, open to all. And they are certainly at odds not only with Jewish ethics, but with the Jewish experience in the United States as immigrants.

By pandering to intolerance, hatred and rage, these candidates are giving a false veneer of respectability to ideas that should have no place in American political life.

That’s why it is so important that Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League have stepped forward to loudly and clearly condemn these statements. Other Jewish organizations have also called out this racism and Islamophobia.

J Street joins them in condemning these unacceptable statements. The Jewish people have found in America a home offering safety and an incredible opportunity to thrive and prosper. Our experience is matched by immigrants of faiths and nationalities too numerous to count. There can be no room in the world’s greatest democracy for the kind of rhetoric and incitement to hatred based on religion that is rearing its ugly head in this year’s presidential primary.

As we embark on a New Year, I hope we all consider committing to standing up, speaking out and acting when the values we hold most dear and to which we hold ourselves accountable each year during these days of reflection are challenged.

As we begin a new year on the Jewish calendar, let us remember that it remains a core Jewish precept that we not treat others the way we do not want to be treated ourselves. It is on us to stand up to those who demonize the other, whip up hatred and pander to our basest instincts.

This is true in Europe. It is true in the United States. And we must ensure that it is true in Israel – the national home of the Jewish people.