The Past Week

February 2, 2017

Dear Friend of Clal,

You are receiving this message from Clal precisely because it is genuinely different from any communication we have seen from any other organization which has chosen to speak out about the events in our nation over the past week. We don’t make such claims lightly but were it not the case, we would not be writing at all. This message is about you, regardless of your politics.

In the midst of all the arguing and protesting, in the midst of all the hurt feelings and genuine vulnerabilities — both feared and already experienced — we write with a simple but powerful invitation which all can honor each in their own way. We invite you to show up for each other.

You may be among the 48% of Americans who support the President’s recent executive order regarding immigration. You may be among the 42% who are opposed. And you may be part of the 10% whose heads are spinning so fiercely that they know longer support either of those conclusions. We care, as individuals, about where you land among those groups and also want to make clear that we do not think all positions here are morally or ethically equal.

In fact, not one member of our lay or professional leadership, whose members include committed conservatives, proud progressives, and many things in between or beyond, is comfortable with where we have gone in the past week. But, since all the arguing about who is right and who is not have barely moved the needle for either side, we choose instead to write to you as an individual — one, like almost all of us, who is more complicated than any single conclusion would indicate. That is the why we choose to invite when others choose to inveigh.

We invite you to show up for each other. It’s both more powerful, and not as easy, as it sounds because who the "other" is depends less on who "they" are and more on who you are. Who is the other for you right now? Who is the person with whom you least identify, be they an undocumented alien, or a person now separated from their family because of new executive orders? Could it be the person with whom you can no
longer speak because they voted for the President, or is it the angry, out–of–work white guy who blames Mexico for his unemployment?

The only thing we know for sure, is that whoever that other is, they are increasingly seen as a force of darkness that is so dangerous, that the rules under which we used to pride ourselves in functioning are falling by the wayside, and otherwise kind–hearted people behave with increasingly blind rage toward one another. And that is the one thing over which we all have a measure of control — how to relate to whatever darkness we think we are in.

This week, both across the nation and throughout the world, people will hear the words of Exodus describing the plague of darkness which fell upon the ancient Egyptians. That darkness was so thick that people could not move, according to the Sages. They were stuck, they were paralyzed.

You are stuck when you all you feel is a generalized fear of foreigners or Muslims, but have not reached out to precisely that other. How many supporters of the president have listened to actual people put into harm’s way because of the policies which they support? You may still support those policies after doing so, but not in the exact same way.

You are stuck when comparisons between the president and Hitler flow so easily, but you have no meaningful engagement with those who support the president — engagement which actually moves you, not necessarily toward them, but toward a deeper understanding and respect for them, if not their conclusions.

We invite you to unstick yourself — not because all forms of being stuck are equally dangerous, but because the most effective place to start is with yourself, and we do it by showing up for each other.

We invite you to show up for an American–born, hijab–wearing, Muslim woman precisely because, whatever your views about her otherness, your willingness to show up for her drives away the very darkness that haunts you.

We invite you to show up for that red–hat–wearing, wall–supporting, colleague or neighbor because again, whatever your views about his otherness, your willingness to show up for him drives away the very darkness that haunts you.

Show up with a cup of coffee, or the offer of some other "meaningless" favor which we know builds the social capital we are fast losing in this nation. Show up with a genuine curiosity about their experience, as opposed to new facts which support your own.

We may win or we may lose on any given policy debate, but these are things we can all do, and they are ways in which we can all chase away whatever darkness we see, especially the darkness of despair which has us all so dangerously stuck. Whoever we are, and whatever we believe, we can all show up for each other, whoever that other may be.

Steven J. Rotter, Chairman
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President
Rabbi Irwin Kula, President