I bet you were saying to yourself for the first time – “I am so happy to see rain this winter.” Following days of snow and ice it sure feels good to be out of the house and back at work!
By the time you read this, the inauguration will have begun in Washington, DC with Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States. I know there is plenty of commentary from all sides. As one pundit stated, “We are an anxious and divided country.”
I thought long and hard about what to write this week, especially with the new administration taking office. I apologize if a bit disjointed. My personal views are not relevant, and the Jewish Federation is a non-partisan body that does not take positions on government officials. We take positions and advocate on policy issues via our Jewish Community Relations Council.
Let me start with this -- the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) will continue to monitor legislation on Capitol Hill and advocate for what is best for the Jewish community and others.
For example, Jewish Family Service agencies across the country are deeply concerned about the proposed repeal and (unknown at this time) replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These agencies and senior care facilities like Cedar Sinai Park receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for the services they provide. Nationally, Jewish communal agencies receive a total of $6 billion a year from Medicaid, which was expanded under the ACA, as well as $1.5 billion a year from Medicare, whose coverage for seniors was also expanded.
This is not an enviable position for social service agencies that utilize so much government funding.
There are, of course, other major policy issues that this administration will undertake – domestic (tax reform, immigration, etc.) and foreign (Israel, Russia, terrorism, etc.).
Here are some reflections from others that I found thoughtful and meaningful:
Dr. Erica Brown wrote in her blog, Weekly Jewish Wisdom:
This week, we will open up the book of Exodus in synagogues around the world a day after America's presidential inauguration. The time feels ripe to think about the relationship between speech and leadership. Words can communicate hope, or they can confirm hate. Words can lift the spirit or send listeners into a depressive tailspin. Words can be a tool of the arrogant or an obstacle to the humble…It helps us appreciate that great leadership is about influence rather than power, modesty rather than publicity, deeds rather than words.
Alex Sinclair of the Jewish Theological Seminary also commented on this week’s Torah portion:
This erev Shabbat is Inauguration Day. Right after the election, This American Life broadcast a conversation between two old friends, one of whom had voted Trump and one Clinton. These two friends disagree strongly with each other, but, thanks to their friendship, mutual respect, and faith in the other’s goodness, they are able to have a civil, thoughtful, reasonable political conversation.
Parashat Shemot offers a cautionary tale of what can happen when we’re not able to do that. Moses sees two Israelites fighting and tries, unsuccessfully, to intervene. The fighters tell Moses that he has no right to interfere since he killed an Egyptian the previous day. Moses is frightened, and says “אכן נודע הדבר”, “indeed the matter is known” (Exod. 2:13). The Midrash interprets this as the middle of Moses’s ruminations about why the Israelites deserve God’s punishment of slavery, and “the matter is known” as meaning that he’s figured out the answer: God’s punishment is because of the sin of gossiping, which is so widespread in the Israelite community that word of the previous day’s incident spread incredibly fast (Exodus Rabbah 1:30).
I’d like to suggest that the sin wasn’t gossiping: it was the Israelites’ fighting itself. Whatever those two Israelites were arguing over, they shouldn’t have let it go so far. Moses saw two Israelites moving beyond verbal disagreement into physical violence, and realized that that’s why God’s punishment was deserved.
There will be tough times ahead, when people will disagree strongly.
We have choices. We can voice our thoughts and concerns. We can also be active listeners. But as Seth Godin, noted marketing guru, wrote yesterday, here are a few ways to be heard better:
Do your homework…Show up with contributions and connections long before you bring your opinion…Speak up about shared truths, shared principles and shared goals…Reflect back what you believe the other person is trying to say before you disagree with it…Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.
And, I am sharing several “life lessons” my family discussed (not always agreeing) during the election:
• Voting is your most important right as a citizen! Exercise that right!
• Words matter. They can hurt or heal. You cannot take them back. Thus, you can never go wrong with restraint.
• In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
• There are winners and losers. Some people may not always like the winner.
• No matter what, the President is the President.
• Stand up for what you believe in and express yourself – appropriately.
• Learn to live with disagreements. Understand that sometimes your view will prevail and sometimes it will not.
• Everyone makes mistakes – take responsibility for them, with sincerity.
• What you post on social media will always follow you. More importantly, it is a reflection of you.
• You help people and make a difference via action!
• There is more power in unity than division.
Let me close with this. Martellus Bennett, a football player on the New England Patriots, recently penned a letter to his three-year old daughter after the election. He wrote, “We will continue to teach you how to love, accept others for who they are, think for yourself, and help others in need.” These are Jewish and American values! Today, as we begin the next chapter in our history, may our country move forward to the benefit of all.