May 16, 2022

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Anything but ordinary

What a Liberal Rabbi Learned at the Trump Hanukkah Party

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


A Jewish lady walks into the submit business office to obtain Hanukkah stamps for her getaway cards.

The human being at the rear of the counter asks, “What denominations?”

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

Certainly, we are so polarized, both equally religiously and politically. Most reports about the White Residence Hanukkah bash mentioned that leaders of the Reform movement and congressional Democrats ended up not invited. Whereas the Obama administration invited 1,700 folks to two Hanukkah get-togethers very last year, the Trump administration invited a mere 300 to 1 these types of party.

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

How in the world did I get an invitation?

I obtained on the record due to the fact I arrived at out to somebody I realized in the administration while advocating for the Condition Section to keep the posture of distinctive envoy to fight anti-Semitism. Before this year there have been conversations that the placement would be removed, and I and a lot of others were urging the White House to reconsider.

I didn’t scream and yell. I didn’t connect with any individual names. I manufactured a situation for why that situation was and is desired, and requested that my note be forwarded to whomever would be capable to effect the decision. The position was formally retained, though as of still no just one has been nominated to fill it and that may well not transpire for a while extended.

A couple months right after I sent the e-mail, out of the blue I been given a call from somebody at the White House inviting me to the Hanukkah get together. I knew it would be a basic matter to drop the invitation. I was previously going to be absent that day at a convention. But it is not each individual day that 1 is invited to a bash at the White Home. President Obama held 9 Hanukkah events and I was not invited to any of them.

Who else was invited?

This 12 months, a considerable proportion of these invited were being Jewish mates and relatives of the Trump and Kushner households, with a substantial proportion of the rest seemingly linked to the Zionist Firm of The us or the Republican Jewish Coalition. I’m absolutely sure quite a few friends fell into all three categories.

A team of women from a nearby yeshiva choir and their chaperones arrived to sing. Two Republican associates of Congress attended, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The Israelis on hand incorporated the U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer. Supreme Courtroom Justice Stephen Breyer and a handful of nationwide Jewish group leaders were being there, also. A bulk of the company appeared to be Orthodox Jews, with several affiliated with Chabad.

At the time my wife and I accepted the invitation, I experienced no thought just how special the visitor list was. I attained out to numerous close friends who I figured would be much better up on the priority list than I. No just one 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 undoubtedly one of a extremely tiny number of invitees who are not registered Republicans. Of individuals who are outspoken supporters of social brings about typically found on the political still left, I may properly have been the lone particular person invited.

What was the occasion like?

On the full it was a fairly typical Hanukkah occasion. There had been latkes and sufganiyot. The Marine Band played in the grand entryway and the girls’ choir sang “Mi Yemalel” (Who Can Retell?)  at the commencing of the formal plan.

The president explained to a model of the Hanukkah story and boasted about his announcement a day previously to identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A Holocaust survivor spoke of her encounters. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel made available the Orthodox version of the prayer for the govt — with its uncomfortable references to God who grants “dominion to rulers” — and the far more fitting Shehecheyanu blessing. President Trump’s Jewish grandchildren kindled a one candle on a silver menorah. Friends joined in singing “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages). We did not say the standard blessings for the reason that it was not yet Hanukkah.

Other than a smaller group of VIPs, the large greater part of company had been not allowed to interact with the president, Vice President Mike Pence or the Kushner household, nor was there an prospect for photos to be taken with any of them.

Whether you blame Trump or his opponents, the political weather has rarely been so polarized. Past year the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements debated no matter whether they must help arrange a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference contact with Trump. When they declined (a final decision I disagreed with), Trump held his possess contact and did not invite the non-Orthodox rabbis. Just last 7 days, major African-American leaders stayed away from the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi due to the fact Trump would be having element.

If you are questioning, leaders of the Reform movement, various other Reform rabbis and my congregation’s leadership, all of whom I instructed about the invitation, inspired us to show up at.

Individuals who know me and the advocacy that I do fully grasp perfectly that no politician or political bash escapes my criticism. This administration is undoubtedly no exception. But I interact civilly, even when some others do not occur close to returning the favor. My aim is normally to help advance the brings about pricey to me, specially when individuals brings about are underneath risk. I try out to be as present as I can and converse to whomever I can, even if my counsel ends up remaining drowned out or dismissed.

When most of the chat at the Hanukkah party was on Jewish geography and in assist of the Jerusalem recognition, I mentioned to a handful of visitors my issues about the absence of an anti-Semitism envoy,  and the probable finances cuts and their impacts on wellbeing treatment and starvation advocacy at the state degree.

The very best quote about advocacy I know will come from a sports hero, hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “You miss out on 100 percent  of the shots you don’t take.” If you never engage in a way that may well be effective in shifting coverage, if you do not converse to and establish relationships with these who might pay attention to you and influence other folks, you will in no way be read and have a possibility to affect coverage.

Significantly as well quite a few individuals take a distinct route, believing that it is greater to scream in protest, identify get in touch with, engage in virtue signaling and boycott fairly than have interaction constructively and civilly with final decision makers.

To paraphrase Gretzky, “One-hundred percent of the candles you do not gentle remain unlit.”

This Hanukkah, allow us bring light and not darkness into our world. Be current and achieve out. Make relationships. Really do not boycott. Go to. Share your light. The people whose hearts and minds are kindled may possibly support you to modify the world.

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


Note: The sights expressed right here are those of the authors and do not always signify or mirror the sights of JBN