This article is in response to “Donald Trump: Social Justice President” (Rabbi Sanford Olshansky, Heritage Florida Jewish News, Aug. 28, 2020).
The High Holy Days will be very different this year for all of us.
Rather than meeting fellow congregants in our synagogues, we will be Zooming. As the first day falls on Shabbos, Reform Jews will have to wait until the closing moments of Yom Kippur to hear the sound of the shofar over the Internet. Holiday meals will be lonely affairs as most families are practicing social distancing. Fasting on the holiest day of the year will be made even more difficult when people are not sharing the experience with others.
It did not have to be this bad. Other countries are opening up. Because of this administration’s failure to address the COVID-19 pandemic and — worst yet — its attempt to call it a “hoax,” the United States has over 6 million confirmed cases and over 189,000 deaths as of Sept. 4, with an upsurge expected this fall. Employment is at 8.4 percent overall (compared to 4.7 percent under Obama) but much higher among Blacks (13.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.5 percent). Both small businesses and large corporations are facing closures or uncertain futures.
The president and his followers have made a health issue a political issue. The country has been torn apart on the issue of wearing a piece of cloth. “The dispute over masks embodies the political dynamics of the campaign,” writes Tara McKelvey in a BBC news article. “It also reflects a classic American struggle between those who defend public safety and those who believe just as deeply in personal liberty.” Meanwhile, all respectable medical personnel view masks as our first defense against the virus.
For those fortunate enough not to have suffered devastating health or economic effects, the impact of the pandemic still has been emotionally difficult. Parents of children fear sending their children to school. Nursing home residents cannot see their families. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Six months into the pandemic, people are feeling lonely, isolated, depressed.
Meanwhile, since George Floyd’s murder, the United States has come face to face with its long history of systematic racism, and the president has only fueled the flames. His comments and policies have impacted Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, Dreamers, Africans (“shit-hole countries”), Asians (“kung fu” flu), and Jews. Even the disabled — including those who suffered physical or emotional injuries as a result of their military service (“losers” and “suckers”) — have been the target of the president’s disrespect and scorn.
Jews and non-Jews alike have questioned why I don’t support Trump as he is “good for the Jews.” His history of anti-Semitic comments prove clearly to me that he is not. In 2017, the president stated soon after the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that there was “good on both sides.” His inability to denounce neo-Nazis demonstrates to me that the lessons of World War II and the Holocaust mean nothing to him. Later that year, after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, Trump’s initial reaction was to criticize the synagogue. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple … maybe it could have been a very much different situation.” In August 2019, he accused American Jews of being “disloyal” to Israel by voting for Democrats. In December 2019, speaking at the Israeli American Council referred the dual loyalty cliché, and then went on to call Jews involved in real estate “ brutal killers, not nice people at all.” As recently as last week, Mary Ann Mendoza, a Trump supporter was pulled from the RNC line up after protests of her promotion of anti-Semitic and QAnon conspiracy theories on her Twitter Feed.
The president is the antithesis to every moral tenet of Judaism. He is a bully, a liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and a self-absorbed, unempathetic narcissist who has no respect for anyone who does not fawn over him — unless they are despots.
His June 1, 2020, photo in front of what is considered the “Church of Presidents” is one the most egregious example. In the middle of peaceful protests, law enforcement officers used tear gas and other riot control tactics to forcefully clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square and surrounding streets, creating a path for the president and senior administration officials to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Reverend Gini Gerbasi, the rector, had helped organize more than twenty priests and lay volunteers to provide water, food, and hand sanitizer as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.” As they were packing up before the 7 p.m. curfew, armed riot police carrying riot shields entered the churchyard, forcing everyone to evacuate. Minutes later, the president and his entourage entered the square. Brandishing an upside-down, back-facing Bible, Trump posed for photographers for what he perceived was his “law and order” demeanor.
The publicity-stunt-gone wrong met with overwhelming condemnation. Rev. Gerbasi’s comments reported in the Washington Post were especially hard hitting. “People were protesting the fact that their government had been enslaving, incarcerating, overlooking and brutalizing them for generations — and the government brutalized them again,” she stated in a Washington Post article. “Religious people, who were literally wiping away the protesters’ tears, were driven off the church property with brute force and fear. All so that Trump could use the church as a backdrop and wave the Bible like a prop. It was beyond offensive. It was sacrilege.”
“We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values,” stated Bishop Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. “For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’” Donald J. Trump is not that president. The only path for our country and democracy is for the overwhelming numbers of Americans to recognize this failure and vote for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. Then, and only then, can all of us sound the Shofar in the future with peace, joy and hope.
Marilyn Shapiro lives in Kissimmee, Fla. This article was first published in the (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News on September 18, 2020