This post has been written by Hedda Schupak, an editor, analyst, and communications director of the Upper Merion Area Democratic Committee, Upper Merion Township, PA.
This past Monday and Tuesday marked the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. At the temple I attend, the president of the congregation told the story of her own path to that congregation--a journey that began in Europe as the political forces were brewing that would eventually become the Holocaust.
"My parents somehow read the tea leaves, and were able to escape into the world of the resistance fighters," she said. Unlike many of her extended family, her parents did survive the Holocaust and immigrated to the United States. Here, her father, worried that his children might someday face the same terrors he did, chose to baptize and raise them as Christians, fearing for their safety as Jews. For years, the family's Jewish origins remained a secret, and the woman grew up active in church life but always with a strange sense that something was missing.
When she learned about her family's Jewish roots, her own personal journey led her back to Judaism and, eventually, to the congregation she was now addressing. It struck a particular chord with me.
Although I am not a Holocaust survivor, nor the child of one, the rhetoric of Donald Trump scares me. It sounds frighteningly reminiscent of the early days of Adolf Hitler. While Trump hasn't turned his crosshairs on us Jews, if we mentally substitute the word "Jews" for the words "Muslims" or "Mexicans" in Trump's rhetoric, can we still be comfortable with what he says?
I'm not. The Holocaust didn't start with gas chambers and concentration camps. It started with populist anger looking for a scapegoat. Once one step is taken in that direction, the next becomes easier, and the next after that, easier still, until the end result is something like the Holocaust. And every Jew since then has prayed, "never again."
The time has come to act on that prayer. While the fundamental shift from a labor-based economy to an information-based economy in the United States has left many people struggling and with plenty to be angry about, blaming one or another group for all that ails has never been the solution. It wasn't in Germany, and it isn't here.
The tea leaves foretell a very chilling outcome if such scapegoating isn't stopped. Fortunately we still have the opportunity to stop it and ensure "never again." Just because it isn't happening to us this time (yet) doesn't mean we can afford to turn a blind eye to it and become a complicit part of it, just like the gentiles of Europe who turned a blind eye to the plight of their Jewish neighbors.
Even apart from the Trump rhetoric, everything the alt-right wing of the GOP stands for runs counter to the values and teachings of Judaism. Jewish liturgy exhorts us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and open our doors and hearts to the stranger. On the High Holidays, we pray for forgiveness for turning a blind eye to those in need, for closing our hearts and our minds to the cries of others' pain, for doing unto others what we would not want done to ourselves, for perpetrating xenophobia, or becoming zealots for bad causes. Furthermore, repentance is only acceptable when we truly try to change our ways and do better. These same precepts are also central values in Christianity and Islam, and in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and other non-Abrahamic faiths.
Many Jews believe the far-right GOP candidates are the most supportive of Israel. But don't confuse geopolitical support for Israel with policies that are good for Jews in the United States. As our rabbi said in his sermon on Rosh Hashanah, you cannot help others if you don't first keep yourself safe and healthy.
It is incumbent upon us as Jews to do everything in our power to make sure a demagogue like Donald Trump does not rise to power. It also is incumbent upon us to have compassion for those less fortunate, to give them a hand up and help them better their lives, not to push them off the ladder or kick them again when they're down.
And it is incumbent upon us to read the tea leaves and see that yes, something akin to the Holocaust could happen here if we don't do our part to stop it.
Personally, I am voting for Hillary Clinton. She isn't perfect--but neither are we. She has made some big mistakes--and so have we. She has ticked a lot of people off--so have we. But if we can be forgiven for our faults, we can forgive her for whatever we perceive her faults to be. She may not be left enough for die-hard Bernie fans, nor right enough for staunch fiscal conservatives, but I believe she is the candidate whose values are most closely aligned with Jewish values. While Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are honorable individuals, the stark reality is that neither one has a chance to win this election, only to divert critical votes that can help ensure that Donald Trump never does.
Please, my fellow Jews, "never again."