Being Jewish in Trump’s America

With the election of Donald Trump, the issues of being Jewish in American have been propelled to the forefront of our consciousness. There are loads of concerns: the strong diversity in approaches to Israel (I shall set aside for now who is right and who is wrong there), the pandering to the “Alt-Right” crowd and the implicit encouragement of their philosophy, the stated desire track and potentially subjugate people based on their religion, and the increased predominance of Christian views and morals in the law enforced. Here are three recent news articles that touch upon these concerns:

  • Jew-Hatred in the Open. Unfortunately, Trump’s election has emboldened the Jew Haters in America. We’ve already heard about antisemitism on the rise in the mountain states, and how a Chanukkah menorah was twisted into a swastika, but just this week there were incidents closer to home: the signage for Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati was attacked. Home, in this sense, because the attack was on the founding institution of Progressive Judaism: HUC — the college that trains Rabbis and Cantors and other professionals for Reform Judaism around the world. Rabbi Jeff Salkin talks about why this was such a heinous act: the specific symbolism that an attack of this form on this institution surfaces. On the one hand, it is good that we can now see how much hatred there is of the “other” (i.e., non-white, non-Christian, non-normative) in American. On the other hand, my God, there is so much hatred of the …. in America.
  • The Trump Card. One thing that was guaranteed by this election, whether Clinton or Trump won: there would be a Jewish In-Law in the White House. Chelsea Clinton married a progressive Jew (I don’t recall if she converted); Ivanka Trump married Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew (she converted). The junior-Trumps have just picked their house and synagogue: the “power couple” will attend TheSHUL, a Chabad synagogue just a seven-minute walk from their new 6,700 square feet, $5.5 million six-bedroom mansion with five wood-burning fireplaces. The congregation is led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who has offered little on his potential new congregants, telling The Forward, “I haven’t commented and cannot comment on who might attend our synagogue. That is our policy.” A Chabad congregation, as opposed to the Modern Orthodox congregation that folks had been expecting (Kesher Israel). Chabad has its good points and its bad points, and will be less likely to push a progressive agenda as might be found in a Reform Congregation. But the exposure and attitude will be good; it is unknown what influence this will have on the administration.
  • Religious Law. What is known about Trump is that he harbors suspicious about Muslims; one can surmise what he might say if an expert in Sharia law was elected to the bench. One can also surmise that he would have less problem if an evangelical who was expert in the Christian interpretation of law was elected (in fact, he seems to want to propose someone like that for the Supreme Court). One wonders, then, what his take is on the election of Rachel Freier, the first woman from Judaism’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community to be elected as a judge in the United States. Freier is a real estate lawyer who volunteers in family court and in her community, where she even serves as a paramedic. She won a three-way Democratic primary and the general election in a swath of Brooklyn that includes the heavily Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. At her swearing-in ceremony, she both vowed to uphold the Constitution and pledged to illuminate the Hasidic world for her new colleagues. It should be interesting to see her judgements from the bench, especially when the law conflicts with Orthodox teachings.