May 27, 2022


Future Technology

What a Liberal Rabbi Learned at the Trump Hanukkah Party

Rabbi David Kaufman and his wife, Julie, attending the White Residence Hanukkah get together in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2017. (Courtesy of Kaufman)

A Jewish girl walks into the submit place of work to get Hanukkah stamps for her holiday break playing cards.

The man or woman powering the counter asks, “What denominations?”

The Jewish female responds, “Oy! Are we so polarized? Some Orthodox, some Conservative and some Reform.”

Yes, we are so polarized, both of those religiously and politically. Most reports about the White Property Hanukkah celebration pointed out that leaders of the Reform movement and congressional Democrats had been not invited. Whilst the Obama administration invited 1,700 people today to two Hanukkah events final year, the Trump administration invited a mere 300 to one this kind of bash.

Between them was just one politically impartial Reform rabbi from Des Moines, Iowa — me.

How in the world did I get an invitation?

I bought on the listing for the reason that I attained out to another person I understood in the administration while advocating for the State Office to maintain the posture of specific envoy to fight anti-Semitism. Before this calendar year there had been conversations that the placement would be removed, and I and quite a few others were being urging the White Household to reconsider.

I didn’t scream and yell. I didn’t simply call anyone names. I built a scenario for why that posture was and is necessary, and questioned that my observe be forwarded to whomever would be equipped to impression the selection. The position was formally retained, although as of still no a person has been nominated to fill it and that may not occur for a although extended.

A number of months just after I sent the e-mail, out of the blue I received a simply call from another person at the White Property inviting me to the Hanukkah social gathering. I understood it would be a straightforward make a difference to decline the invitation. I was presently going to be absent that day at a meeting. But it is not every working day that 1 is invited to a party at the White House. President Obama held nine Hanukkah parties and I was not invited to any of them.

Who else was invited?

This year, a important proportion of all those invited ended up Jewish pals and relatives of the Trump and Kushner households, with a large percentage of the rest seemingly linked to the Zionist Business of The usa or the Republican Jewish Coalition. I’m confident a lot of visitors fell into all three classes.

A team of girls from a neighborhood yeshiva choir and their chaperones came to sing. Two Republican members of Congress attended, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The Israelis on hand included the U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and a handful of national Jewish group leaders were being there, too. A the vast majority of the visitors appeared to be Orthodox Jews, with numerous affiliated with Chabad.

At the time my wife and I accepted the invitation, I had no plan just how unique the guest record was. I reached out to several friends who I figured would be considerably larger up on the precedence listing than I. No a person I contacted was invited. I did not know that I would be the only Reform rabbi in attendance, probably the only Reform or Conservative rabbi, and surely one particular of a extremely tiny quantity of invitees who are not registered Republicans. Of all those who are outspoken supporters of social leads to normally discovered on the political still left, I may well properly have been the lone man or woman invited.

What was the bash like?

On the total it was a somewhat normal Hanukkah social gathering. There ended up latkes and sufganiyot. The Maritime Band played in the grand entryway and the girls’ choir sang “Mi Yemalel” (Who Can Retell?)  at the commencing of the formal program.

The president told a variation of the Hanukkah story and boasted about his announcement a day previously to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A Holocaust survivor spoke of her encounters. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel supplied the Orthodox edition of the prayer for the governing administration — with its awkward references to God who grants “dominion to rulers” — and the much more fitting Shehecheyanu blessing. President Trump’s Jewish grandchildren kindled a solitary candle on a silver menorah. Guests joined in singing “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages). We did not say the regular blessings for the reason that it was not yet Hanukkah.

Other than a smaller sized group of VIPs, the wide majority of company have been not permitted to interact with the president, Vice President Mike Pence or the Kushner family, nor was there an possibility for pictures to be taken with any of them.

Whether you blame Trump or his opponents, the political climate has rarely been so polarized. Last year the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements debated regardless of whether they should support arrange a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference contact with Trump. When they declined (a conclusion I disagreed with), Trump held his have get in touch with and did not invite the non-Orthodox rabbis. Just past 7 days, best African-American leaders stayed away from the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi since Trump would be getting part.

If you are pondering, leaders of the Reform movement, many other Reform rabbis and my congregation’s management, all of whom I told about the invitation, encouraged us to attend.

People who know me and the advocacy that I do understand effectively that no politician or political celebration escapes my criticism. This administration is surely no exception. But I engage civilly, even when other people do not arrive shut to returning the favor. My intention is usually to support advance the brings about dear to me, especially when these triggers are beneath threat. I try out to be as current as I can and discuss to whomever I can, even if my counsel ends up remaining drowned out or dismissed.

Whilst most of the speak at the Hanukkah party was on Jewish geography and in help of the Jerusalem recognition, I talked about to a handful of visitors my concerns about the deficiency of an anti-Semitism envoy,  and the likely spending budget cuts and their impacts on health treatment and starvation advocacy at the condition amount.

The greatest quote about advocacy I know comes from a sports activities hero, hockey good Wayne Gretzky: “You miss out on 100 percent  of the pictures you really don’t consider.” If you never engage in a way that may possibly be productive in shifting coverage, if you really do not speak to and build relationships with all those who may listen to you and influence other folks, you will under no circumstances be read and have a likelihood to affect plan.

Much much too several people today take a different route, believing that it is far better to scream in protest, identify contact, engage in advantage signaling and boycott rather than have interaction constructively and civilly with decision makers.

To paraphrase Gretzky, “One-hundred p.c of the candles you really do not light remain unlit.”

This Hanukkah, allow us convey light-weight and not darkness into our planet. Be current and arrive at out. Construct associations. Don’t boycott. Show up at. Share your mild. The individuals whose hearts and minds are kindled might enable you to improve the world.

(David Kaufman is the rabbi of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa.)

Notice: The sights expressed here are these of the authors and do not automatically represent or replicate the sights of JBN