It has been a difficult month for me and I know it has been for many of you. Though I feel more and more like a Canadian with each passing year and I am a rabbi in this community, I still have an emotional connection to family and events in America (“the old country”). Like many around the world, I am grieving a loss, not of an election, but of a promise and a vision of a more hopeful, kind, tolerant and peaceful world.
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is a reminder of the power of fear and the fragility of the human spirit. There is no denying that a majority of the global population of Western countries feels threatened by unrelenting change – immigration, globalization, terrorism, multiculturalism. Many conflate slowing or stopping the pace of change with preserving their heritage, their privilege. The election of nationalistic leaders around the globe, of which Trump is only the latest, is an unfiltered primal scream of the fragility and fear consuming Western civilization.
As Jews, we are always hyper-aware of these kinds of tectonic shifts in societal norms. When what was once considered beyond the pale of decency becomes mainstream, we rightfully get worried.
That the U.S. election took place on the anniversary of Kristallnacht only served to remind us of the thin veneer of civility that exists in society and how fragile it is against the pressures of a global economy and existential threats to safety and security.
Here in Canada we have seen an increase in antisemitic incidents since the American election. Perhaps they are unrelated, but our “radar” for these kinds of things tells us otherwise. Anger and resentment have been given licence and agency by this recent campaign. Perhaps they would have no matter the winner but, whenever this happens, it is never “good for the Jews.”
Throughout the Torah, God tests the Jewish people. He puts them in the most vexing of situations. Temples are destroyed, false prophets rise among them, they are attacked from within and they are attacked from without. In each instance, the people rise above the challenges and are stronger because they confronted the challenge and found a way to persevere in spite of it.
I don’t think God brought us Trump or those world leaders like him, but I do think this is a test of our character and our humanity as individuals, as Jews and as Canadians, a test with great implications.
The biblical prophets were ignored and often derided, and yet they stood up and spoke truth to power. In the end, sometimes decades later, they were always proven right. The situation developed just as they said it would and the people suffered greatly, but they recovered, eventually healed and were restored.
I am 46 years old. For my generation, this is our time to lead, and the world will look to us to address these problems. This is the great test of my generation, one that began on 9/11. A test of our humanity, a test to prove that love does trump hate, that we can be good and prosperous, that America and other nations can be great without tearing each other and their citizens down in the process.
I am lucky to be in Canada right now, but election night made clear what we already knew: we are not there yet. There is work to be done here, too, as well as in America and around the globe. We are not impervious to the isolationist forces and economic circumstances that brought Trump to power.
Rabbi Tarfon used to say: it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it (Avot 2:21). The time for mourning is ending. We must rise from our grief and get back to work – for there is much to be done.
Dan Moskovitz is senior rabbi at Temple Sholom.