On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

The Day After

I woke up Wednesday morning breathing deep with relief that the long nightmare of the campaign was finally behind us—and fearful that my fellow Americans and I will not be able to find it in ourselves to overcome divisions greater than at any time since the Civil War. After all, tens of millions awoke with immense pain and anger at the outcome of the election, and about the same number with the sense their voices had finally been heard. I do not know, in legislative terms, what the specifics of “coming together” will entail. But I do know that the Torah demands that we never give up on one another or our society; that we be better than we have been of late; and that we take concrete steps to return to the truth and ideals that are “self-evident” to Americans when we do not cover them over with cynicism. These are, I believe, the only ways to keep the house we share from burning. All hands are needed—and all hearts, too—to put out the fire and rebuild.

The first building block, it seems to me, is speech. Words played a major role in turning us into this nation divided—name-calling, disparagement, smears of all kinds—and words will have to play a major role in making things better. God spoke the world into being, we learn in the very first verses of Genesis, and Jewish sages taught that human beings, having been created in God’s image, have the power to make and destroy—to build up and tear down other human beings—through speech.

Let’s all resolve to watch our mouths in the post-election period. No harmful speech, let alone violent action. Let’s listen so well to the words uttered by people who disagree with us, that we hear what is intended and felt even when it is not actually said. The disagreement likely will not go away. But the anger and pain need to be registered.  So does the fear—palpable on all sides—about where our country is headed.

A related casualty of this long and grueling election cycle has been the truth, so damaged that many Americans have apparently stopped believing that any politician ever tells the truth. The Torah says that Truth is one of the names of God. The Ten Commandments prohibit us from lying in God’s name; a major aspect of loving our neighbors, Leviticus teaches, is to be straight with them about what we think they are doing wrong. Jews have learned the hard way, as have other minority communities, that when those in power play fast and loose with the truth, individuals and groups who are powerless, as Jews have been in the past, are the first to pay a heavy price.

So let’s all make a promise, with the election behind us, to tell the truth on a more regular basis than seemed possible in the heat of the campaign. There is a time for political rhetoric, and a time to own up to complexity; let’s reject the lie that a person or group is either “with us” or “against us.” Let’s own up to the complexity of things for a change, admit that the policies and individuals we favor or oppose are not all good or all bad, and recognize that disputes over principle often mask fights over turf or privilege.

Third, let’s really be our brothers’ keepers. We mustn’t think the fire will consume only their side of the house we share. Let’s reach across every aisle, every fence, to every neighbor. Let’s listen hard to the anger and the pain. Most important, we must heed the Bible’s refrain that “widows and orphans”—all who cannot provide for themselves—must not be allowed to starve. Like many Americans, I don’t much care how we accomplish that goal, but it pains me that we don’t, that it seems we can’t, and—worse—that we act as if we do not give a damn.

Let’s channel that impatience into action. Christmas Eve this year falls on the same date as the first night of Hanukkah. Could we resolve as a country—individuals of all parties and creeds, corporations and businesses of every size and complexity, governments at the federal, state, and local level, religious organizations and secular charities, all of us—that no child will wake up the next morning without enough food to eat. For that one day, at least (and for as many days afterward as possible). To make the holiday a Holy Day for all Americans, regardless of religious beliefs. To show that we can work together on something valuable, that we care. That light in the December darkness would make all Americans proud.

24 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Wachtel says:

    Beautifully articulated. Thanks for your wisdom Arnie.

  2. Saul leff says:

    As has been said so many times in the past
    ” from your mouth to God’s ears”. Amen

  3. Yvonne Paretzky says:

    These words from my daughter, Johanna Paretzky Faries, a graduate of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and Harvard University, speak to many of the issues raised by this election and include a call to positive action:
    Well, the sun also rises. I have never been so sad to be right. But those of us who have studied and walked in an America that lies to itself so consistently are not at all surprised. This is how it happens, folks. This is your relationship with power. But it’s also a call to anyone who feels shock today to open some books, talk about your real history and ask why this outcome either makes you sad, happy, or indifferent. Get away first from the fake packaging of history that they taught you as a kid or sell to you in movies. Understand that this is who America is, but also what it doesn’t have to be. Once one reconciles the pain and hope of that fact, we get one step closer to seeing the irony that is the “U.S.A!” and the place we call home. But this certainly is a reckoning for those of us who aren’t interested in becoming so small-minded a nation as this. You cannot plant empty values, over and over again, and expect higher values in return. Period. So get to planting, everyone. Grow a garden of learning and invite others to the project, as a start. And for any American Muslim, Latino, suffering refugee, child who went to bed crying, black person – especially black male person, aspiring woman, pregnant woman, working parent, disabled person, LGBTQ person, activist, and other, I sincerely pray for you, your safety, and will shout from any rooftop the truth of your unquestionable validity at all times, in absolute terms, and relative to nothing and no one else. At minimum, know that you have a haven of love and genuine support here, always, and forever. It’s what I tell myself as well, and my kids, because we too are less safe than we were yesterday..

  4. Felipe Goodman says:

    Beautiful
    Thanks for the words of Torah and wisdom Chancellor.

  5. Marsha says:

    Three good points to remember during these difficult times. Thank you.

  6. Brilliant and very much needed, starting with my own children and nephews. Three of the seven went Columbia/JTS and one to Stanford.
    Thank you for speaking out and hitting the nail on the head.

    Stew

  7. David Lerner says:

    It always seems to be the one suing for peace to ask “can’t we all just get along?” But the ugly truth is that only one candidate, not two, repeatedly blew the dog whistle helping to unearth the ugly stain of anti-Semitic tropes. And it was one candidate, not two, who was openly and violently misogynistic. And one candidate, not two, who was openly and venomously hostile to and disdainful of whole categories of people on the basis only of their race, religion, nationality, or even disability. One candidate, not two, who encouraged and cheered the use of physical violence against their opponents. One candidate, not two. Not all disputes have two sides with equal culpability. This one did not. When I read the call, no, the demand, for this candidate’s supporters urgently to make a deep accounting of their souls for enabling baseless and virulent hatred to once again spread across our great nation, then come ask me if we can all just get along.

  8. Jill Holstein says:

    Well said. It belongs on the editorial page of all newspapers.

  9. Carol Dikman says:

    Your idea for Christmas Day and the 1st Day of Hanukkah is such a caring one. How can we may that happen? I would love to be part of the effort.

  10. Gregory Simpson says:

    Thank you for this very timely reminder of our responsibilities to God and to our fellow humans.

    There are many things to learn from the events of the past 12 months and lots to be thankful for in the midst of disappointment.

    I remain prayerful for our country as the transition takes place.

    Peace,
    Gregory

  11. Jonathan Gellman says:

    Interestingly, the links among this year’s calendars have made Judaism a bridge among all three Abrahamic faiths. First, on October 3d, Rosh HaShanah coincided with the Islamic New Year. Then, in the last week of 2016, Chanukah’s first night is on Christmas Eve and its last day is on New Year’s Day. L’shanah Tovah! Happy New Years!

  12. Jonathan Gellman says:

    While fighting local hunger is important, I think there is a more direct response to the particular tensions suggested by the past year’s campaign. Much of Trump’s appeal seems to reflect that many residents of rural and small-town America (including I suspect upstate NY as well as Pennsylvania and the Midwest) feel that they are being ignored or injured by the forces of a global economy and urban/suburban elites. While Jewish teenage groups and church groups have separately spent some summer weeks building or repairing houses (as banayikh/bonayikh) in Appalachia and other rural communities, perhaps we should encourage joint efforts of synagogues, churches and mosques to send ecumenical teams to perform that restorative work and by so doing, build ethnic and spiritual bridges in distant American towns and back home.

  13. Amo Fuchs says:

    our brothers’ keepers?
    That wasn’t Kain?
    Gd said: When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength;
    so what did Kain do?
    “And Cain …and he (Kain)builded a city, ” he became a real estate entreprenneur

  14. Floy Kaminski says:

    Thank you for this, Arnie. While overwhelmed by feelings of oppression, anger, and injustice, I find it helpful to be redirected to the fact that, going forward, positive change begins with each individual. To focus on the uniquely human communication of speech as God-given and modeled from the beginning–“God spoke the
    world into being”–points to the power and creativity of speech. Being reminded that
    “the Torah says that Truth is one of the names of God” confirms the sanctity of being honest and using speech as a way to better the world. And where to begin? To “love my neighbor as myself”, directing my efforts to hearing and understanding with compassion, to reaching out from myself to others in service and in love. That’s a great message with real healing power.

  15. Roberta says:

    Thank you for your wise and measured insights and advice to take care of our speech and guard truth.

  16. Susan Rees says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  17. Susan Wool says:

    Thank you for this beautiful message. You truly shine light in this darkness that seems to overwhelm us.

  18. dorothy klein says:

    What we must do now is investigate his actions on taxes,conduct and felonious Activities re: charity giving. He lied,cheated and verbally assaulted everyone. No,he does not deserve respect our honor.

  19. I share your views about the selection and its outcome. I did not vote for Trump personal and it is unlikely I ever would have cuz of the hateful rhetoric and racism that I saw spewing from his side. It saddens me greatly because we all are brothers and sisters when it comes to God. I’m honestly surprised Trump got elected but he did. I have friends who are among the protesters have been in the news and then admonished him numerous times violent tactics and property destruction. I believe in protest conducted in the same fashion as Martin Luther King and Gandhi would have done. Non-violently. I think Trump is going to have a great deal of trouble leading because of the number of people who just plain hate him. I am not among those people but I do think he would be a very poor president and not consider the needs of the very portant people of color. If I protest personally it will be non-violent and I’m going to wait until after he takes office and see what he does before I do anything. At least give the man a chance.

  20. Jeff Sherer says:

    I will distribute this idealism because I believe in this credo. To those who shouted at recent Trump rallies “Jew S A!”, and to trump who is ready to withdraw the U.S. from the international coalition of countries all around this planet, brought together by OUR president who worked tirelessly to have industrial nations cut back on burning fossil fuels and who promises to bring back coal and run more oil pipelines across the U.S., and eliminate safety controls and EPA rules governing industries so thatthey canincrease profits at the public’s expense and safety, and deny a woman’s right to choose haviong the government make that decision, and close health clinics for women, and cut taxes for the rich that will drive our deficit through the roof… the list goes on. That’s why we are so upset let alone what he has done and will continue to do destroying the dignity of the office. … Yes,lets practice Torah and respect for one another. We are listening carefully to the words on both sides and unless we remain diligent we will be victimized by our “glorious leader” favored by Putin and that North Korean leader who makes that KGB assassin and trump supporter look like a “pussy” one that trump can grab onto.

  21. Beverly Fetner says:

    I will pass your profound words on to my children and grandchildren.

  22. Saul Wachs says:

    All true.
    Much of what was said and done during the campaigns rested on the asumption that people do not have critical listening and reading
    skills. Our schools must teach civic literacy but also,in the teaching of our texts,cultivate the skills of literary and rhetorical analysis. Let our people echo the common talmudic question:”How do we know this is true?”

  23. Allen Aisenstein says:

    Good advice.

  24. Marlene Snyder says:

    Wonderful commentary! Such words that all should hear and follow! Thank you.

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