What a Liberal Rabbi Learned at the Trump Hanukkah Party

Rabbi David Kaufman and his spouse, Julie, attending the White Home Hanukkah get together in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2017. (Courtesy of Kaufman)

A Jewish girl walks into the article workplace to purchase Hanukkah stamps for her getaway playing cards.

The human being guiding the counter asks, “What denominations?”

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

Certainly, we are so polarized, the two religiously and politically. Most reports about the White House Hanukkah social gathering famous that leaders of the Reform movement and congressional Democrats were being not invited. While the Obama administration invited 1,700 folks to two Hanukkah functions final calendar year, the Trump administration invited a mere 300 to just one these types of social gathering.

Among them was one particular politically impartial Reform rabbi from Des Moines, Iowa — me.

How in the earth did I get an invitation?

I received on the checklist due to the fact I arrived at out to another person I knew in the administration though advocating for the Point out Division to preserve the situation of special envoy to battle anti-Semitism. Previously this 12 months there were discussions that the position would be eradicated, and I and a lot of other individuals ended up 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 place was and is required, and questioned that my be aware be forwarded to whomever would be equipped to effects the determination. The situation was officially retained, nevertheless as of nevertheless no one has been nominated to fill it and that could not transpire for a when more time.

A few months right after I despatched the e mail, out of the blue I obtained a simply call from somebody at the White House inviting me to the Hanukkah celebration. I understood it would be a very simple make any difference to decrease the invitation. I was currently heading to be away that day at a meeting. But it isn’t just about every day that 1 is invited to a bash at the White House. President Obama held 9 Hanukkah get-togethers and I was not invited to any of them.

Who else was invited?

This yr, a important percentage of all those invited were being Jewish pals and relations of the Trump and Kushner family members, with a significant share of the relaxation seemingly connected to the Zionist Firm of The us or the Republican Jewish Coalition. I’m confident lots of guests fell into all 3 classes.

A group of women from a regional yeshiva choir and their chaperones arrived to sing. Two Republican customers of Congress attended, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The Israelis on hand provided the U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer. Supreme Court docket Justice Stephen Breyer and a handful of countrywide Jewish neighborhood leaders were there, also. A the vast majority of the guests seemed to be Orthodox Jews, with many affiliated with Chabad.

At the time my spouse and I acknowledged the invitation, I had no thought just how distinctive the guest record was. I reached out to several mates who I figured would be considerably increased up on the priority checklist than I. No a single I contacted was invited. I did not know that I would be the only Reform rabbi in attendance, maybe the only Reform or Conservative rabbi, and certainly one of a incredibly modest quantity of invitees who are not registered Republicans. Of people who are outspoken supporters of social leads to usually found on the political left, I may very well have been the lone human being invited.

What was the social gathering like?

On the entire it was a fairly typical Hanukkah celebration. There ended up latkes and sufganiyot. The Marine Band performed in the grand entryway and the girls’ choir sang “Mi Yemalel” (Who Can Retell?)  at the commencing of the formal application.

The president informed a version of the Hanukkah story and boasted about his announcement a day earlier to figure out Jerusalem as Israel’s funds. A Holocaust survivor spoke of her activities. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel provided the Orthodox model of the prayer for the federal government — 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. Attendees joined in singing “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages). We did not say the common blessings since it was not nevertheless Hanukkah.

Other than a smaller group of VIPs, the extensive greater part of guests were being not permitted to interact with the president, Vice President Mike Pence or the Kushner family, nor was there an option for images to be taken with any of them.

No matter whether you blame Trump or his opponents, the political local climate has rarely been so polarized. Previous year the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative actions debated whether they must help arrange a pre-Rosh Hashanah meeting contact with Trump. When they declined (a conclusion I disagreed with), Trump held his individual phone and did not invite the non-Orthodox rabbis. Just very last 7 days, top African-American leaders stayed away from the opening of a civil legal rights museum in Mississippi since Trump would be taking element.

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

All those who know me and the advocacy that I do recognize well that no politician or political party escapes my criticism. This administration is definitely no exception. But I have interaction civilly, even when others do not occur near to returning the favor. My purpose is often to enable progress the brings about dear to me, specifically when all those causes are underneath threat. I try to be as existing as I can and speak to whomever I can, even if my counsel ends up being drowned out or disregarded.

Whilst most of the communicate at the Hanukkah party was on Jewish geography and in aid of the Jerusalem recognition, I mentioned to a handful of company my considerations about the deficiency of an anti-Semitism envoy,  and the likely price range cuts and their impacts on wellbeing care and hunger advocacy at the state level.

The ideal quotation about advocacy I know will come from a sports activities hero, hockey wonderful Wayne Gretzky: “You skip 100 percent  of the shots you really do not get.” If you really do not have interaction in a way that may well be successful in altering policy, if you really don’t speak to and establish relationships with those who may listen to you and affect other folks, you will by no means be read and have a likelihood to affect policy.

Far as well several individuals consider a various path, believing that it’s superior to scream in protest, title simply call, interact in advantage signaling and boycott rather than interact constructively and civilly with decision makers.

To paraphrase Gretzky, “One-hundred percent of the candles you never light stay unlit.”

This Hanukkah, enable us carry mild and not darkness into our planet. Be existing and get to out. Create associations. Really do not boycott. Show up at. Share your light-weight. The persons whose hearts and minds are kindled might aid you to change the planet.

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

Observe: The sights expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily depict or replicate the views of JBN