This year has been a difficult one for Americans. Hundreds of thousands have died, the economy has cratered, schools have been closed to in-person learning.
The Covid-19 pandemic also forced most people indoors for extended periods of time. Unemployment has spiked, which means that many Americans have more free time to browse the Internet. Unsurprisingly, this has led to increased radicalization. Partisan divides are only growing wider. The 2020 presidential election showed the ugliness of extreme partisanship. It feels as though there are two Americas, one Republican and one Democrat. In the wake of the 2020 election, there is a desperate need for unity. As the Covid-19 vaccine continues to be administered, more and more Americans will have to leave their online, isolated bubble and venture into the real world again. That means interacting with people who have different politics. So, how can we as Jews heal the massive partisan divide?
In my experience, partisan debates often occur between Jews after a rabbi delivers a fiery political speech from the bema. While it is important to relate current events to teachings from the Torah, there is a line between making the Torah relatable and modern, and intentionally alienating certain political opinions. Synagogue services should be a time for one to connect to G-d, to talk with friends, and learn from the wisdom of the Rabbi. It is not the time for partisan political debates. As people begin to re-enter synagogues after lockdown, it is especially important to rekindle bonds within the community. Connection is crucial. An impassioned speech from the rabbi will only serve eradicate ties between members. The Torah does not need to be mixed with politics. We are all Jews. Services are a time for us to unify as a people, not divide us along party lines.
Another way that Jews can ease the tension of partisanship is through community outreach. Many synagogues offer programs where members can volunteer at soup kitchens. This type of outreach achieves two amazing things. First, it allows for community bonding. Working hard together is a way to build and strengthen connections. When you are volunteering together, you cannot refuse to work with someone simply because they are a Democrat. It is about teamwork. Secondly, community outreach humanizes people. It illustrates a common humanity everyone shares. It brings people together with others who may not be like them. Outreach has the potential to unite different communities. It forces us to work to help someone, regardless of each others’ political affiliation.
Of course, some Jews will push back on this idea of unity. It is understandable, given the extremists found in both parties. Leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties have been accused of anti-Semitism. It is not a far leap to assume that those who follow anti-Semitic leaders are also perpeuating anti-Semitism. However, you cannot address anti-Semitism through alienation. Jews can choose to ignore the issue of anti-Semitism in extremist politics, but that will not solve the problem. If we allow it to fester and grow, we can expect more violent attacks from extremists. While it might be painful and even demeaning to try to resolve differences, deradicalization cannot occur without forming a bond. You cannot help someone that you do not even care about. Of course, many people who abide by partisan politics are not so extreme as to become anti-Semitic, but we still cannot allow for division within the Jewish community. Our people are weakest when we are separated.
Partisan politics has created deep divisions within the Jewish community. While it is easier to disregard these divisions and remain within one’s party, a divided community cannot stand. It is critical that Jews work to eradicate the hatred between members of opposing political parties. This can be achieved via unifying synagogue services and community outreach. If we all want to remain in the same country, within the same community, it is impossible for us to ignore this issue. Anti-Semitism will always remain in extreme politics, but that does not mean we can only remain with those who are allied with our party. That will only lead to hatred and violence. Now is the time to unify our Jewish community, not divide it.