My Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order On Immigration, Refugees and Visas

Friends,

As many of you know, I’m deeply committed to nurturing pluralism. I believe that diverse voices engaged in productive, respectful dialogue form the foundation of an engaging, welcoming community. For the past several weeks, I’ve focused most of my writings and teachings on the need to bring civility, compassion and kindness into our political conversations. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to foster these strengths in our congregation and the larger community.

Because of my commitment to pluralism, coupled with the divisive political climate in which we find ourselves, I’ve intentionally avoided sharing many of my own thoughts on the issues facing our nation right now. I’ve done so because I’ve not wanted to add to the negativity out there nor have inaccurate assumptions made about me. But, today, I’m going to share. I do so not because I question the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, not because I want President Trump to fail and not to support a particular party, organization or cause. I do so as an American who wants this new administration, our entire government and our nation to succeed. I do so as a Jew who is taught that I’m obligated to give toch’acha (respectful, constructive rebuke) when I see someone make a poor choice. I do so as a Jewish American who is well aware that our nation’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees in the past led to the murder of many of our own.

President Trump has a responsibility to ensure that our nation is safe and secure. Given this, the President, in consultation with the appropriate agencies, has the obligation to both strengthen our borders and the vetting process of those seeking to enter our country. As Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham stated yesterday, “we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”

I supported President Obama’s decision to place travel restrictions on those seeking entrance into the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (read more here) – the same countries that President Trump focused on in his Executive Order – Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States.

I was deeply concerned at the way in which this Executive Order was implemented. To quote Senators McCain and Graham again: “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.”

I was even more concerned that in an interview that aired last night (click here to watch the interview), President Trump stated that he would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. While I’m not a Constitutional scholar, it’s my understanding that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits government action that unduly favors one religion over another. It’s one thing to expand upon the limitations that President Obama’s administration placed on the seven countries listed above. It’s another thing to violate the Constitution. As a religious leader in America, I must express my concern about this.

I ask each of us to stay up to date on what’s going on in our country. Get the facts. Ask questions. Share your concerns with your elected leaders. Respectfully talk with each other. It’s okay to disagree – but, to quote from the principles of one of my favorite rabbinic organizations, Rabbis Without Borders, always “strive to be aware of the partial truth in a view with which” you disagree.

L’Shalom,

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

 

Whether You’re Pro-Trump or Anti-Trump, Strive to be a Mensch

Korach and his followers swallowed by the earth. From the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England. Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

Korach and his followers swallowed by the earth.
From the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England. Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

While in some respects the past week has been an incredible display of American democracy, this transfer of power that we’ve all witnessed has been ugly. President Trump’s first week has been filled with pomp, circumstance, several executive orders, oaths of office and lots of protests, outrage and noise. Tempers are running high. Lines have been drawn. And plans have been made to obliterate those on the other side of these lines.

Immigration, border security, healthcare, abortion, pipelines, freedom of the press, fake news, crowd sizes, Palestinian aid, the capital of Israel, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice – these are just a few of the issues that the first week of the Trump presidency have thrust into the national spotlight. While we should be talking about these issues, I’m becoming more and more disheartened by our inability to do so. We’re either too angry, too boastful or too fearful to engage in a productive conversation about politics. This, sadly, will do nothing to help strengthen our divided nation.

I’ve heard and read too many stories over the past few days which capture not just how divided we are as a country, but how determined we are to silence those who feel differently than we do about the President and his new administration. A good friend of mine left her home the other morning to find that the “Hate Has No Home Here” sign that she and her children put up in their front yard had been covered over with a Trump campaign sign. Someone else I know was turned away from the Women’s March in D.C. by an organizer who, after asking her about her position on abortion, told her that “this protest is not for you.” If you’ve had the guts to keep on top of the news this week, you know that these stories are not in any way unique and are tame in comparison to other incidents. The attempts to push aside, shame and threaten those with different opinions are a national plague that flies in the face of our democratic values – values that ironically made last week’s transfer of power possible.

This divisive plague is nothing new. For centuries, it’s reared its ugly head. It appears in one of the more troubling stories of the Torah, the story of Korach. A rebel who stood up to Moses, Korach questions Moses’ right to rule over the Israelites and leads a mutiny against him. As Judaism encourages us to challenge authority and take a stand when we perceive that justice is not being pursued, one might think that Korach and his willingness to confront Moses would be praised. Those who are familiar with the story, however, know that this is anything but the case. God intervenes and ensures that Korach and his supporters are not only defeated, but swallowed up by the earth, never to be seen again.

Why would the Torah, which teaches us to pursue justice with all of our heart and soul, include a story that depicts the horrid demise of one who challenges Moses? The answer lies in the words that Korach uses to accuse Moses and his brother Aaron of being poor leaders: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire community are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst.”

Nechama Leibowitz, the late renowned Torah commentator and scholar, draws our attention to what appears to be Korach’s grammatically incorrect accusation: “the entire community are all holy.” Leibowitz states that this is no grammatical error. It’s deliberate and the reason Korach was obliterated. He doesn’t see the Israelite community as a single entity, but rather as a group of individuals – each one being driven by their own concerns and needs. The well-being of the community as a whole doesn’t matter to him. Central to Judaism is the teaching that we can’t “separate ourselves from the community.” Without our community, we’re nothing. But Korach and his fellow rebels, they see themselves as separate and distinct from the community. All that matters to them is what they deem to be important, not what will be best for all people. Because of this, Leibowitz calls Korach and his cohorts:

a band of malcontents, each harboring his own personal grievances against authority, animated by individual pride and ambition, united to overthrow Moses and Aaron and hoping thereby to attain their individual desires…

Wherever we call home, whether it be in South Florida, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else in America, many of us are unfortunately part of at least one “band of malcontents” these days. And within our respective bands, we’re harboring our “own personal grievances” against President Trump and his supporters or against those who don’t support the President. We’re “animated by individual pride and ambition” and hope to overthrow those who don’t agree with us and attain our own “individual desires.”

But the Torah, our Judaism, is asking us to take a different approach – an approach that challenges us to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on our nation. While it certainly doesn’t feel like it right now, we’re part of one national community. Korach wasn’t swallowed up by the earth because he challenged Moses. He wasn’t swallowed up by the earth because he questioned Moses’ ability to lead the people. He was swallowed up by the earth because he forgot that he had a responsibility to act in a way that supports the best interests of all people, the entire community, the whole nation. He forgot that he did not live in isolation and his concerns were not necessarily the concerns of his neighbor. And so, as he pursued power, he made it all about himself. He failed to appreciate that he was part of something much bigger, much more complicated than just himself. He failed to appreciate that he was part of a community. And to highlight his failure, the Torah dramatically removes him from the community that he overlooked.

Korach’s shocking departure is a reminder that we don’t live in isolation. As Jews, it’s imperative that, despite our differences, we strive to be part of klal yisrael – a united people. As Americans, it’s just as imperative that we strive to be part of a unified, albeit diverse, country. Given that we’re part of a pluralistic nation, this is a tremendous challenge. But the story of Korach pushes us to meet this challenge – to act in a way that preserves community. This doesn’t mean that we can’t protest or disagree with each other. It does mean, however, that when we do so, we act with the best interests of our country in mind. This requires us to make room in the public arena for dissenting voices. It means that in this arena we don’t attempt to silence, shut out, shame or threaten others simply because they see the world differently than we do. It demands that we boldly stand up for what we believe in without tossing aside integrity, dignity, respect and poise. It obligates us to rise above Korach and those like him who are motivated purely by what will be best for them and not what will bring about national healing and strength. It calls upon each of us to be what our tradition calls a mensch, a descent, honorable human being. From the ancient book of teachings, Pirke Avot, we’re taught: “in a place where there are no mensches (or menschen), strive to be a mensch.” This is not easy. But within our national community today, mensches are seriously lacking. Within our respective bands of malcontents, we want to continue raging, gloating, shaming and silencing. Within these bands, we feel safe. But a few of us need to find the courage to look beyond the safety of our bands, strive to discover the bonds that link us together, band to band, citizen to citizen, and empower us to come together as a united nation. It will take some mensches to do just this. Will you be one of them?

 

My Son’s Lesson This Inauguration Day

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My son’s National History Day Documentary. Click on image to play.

As Donald Trump is inaugurated as our 45th President today, emotions are high. Many are excited and overjoyed. Many are devastated and fearful. One of President Trump’s greatest challenges will be to bring healing to our very divided nation. May he fully commit himself to this healing and may he be successful. But, let us remember that the important work that needs to be done in Washington, D.C. and across America is our work as well. We the people are the citizens of this great nation and, as such, we the people have the ability to set the agenda and take an active part in determining who we are as a country.

Last week, my son, Jonah, completed his National History Day project, an in-depth research assignment that asked students to focus on important individuals and organizations who took a stand in history. Jonah chose to look closely at how the American Jewish community took a stand to rescue their European brothers and sisters from the horrors of Hitler.  He spent several months researching how American Jews worked tirelessly to challenge both Hitler’s Nazi regime and American immigration policy that severely limited how many European Jews could seek refuge in our country. He was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to interview renowned Jewish scholars and historians, Dr. Jonathan Sarna and Dr. Raphael Medoff. His research culminated in the documentary American Jews vs. The Nazis which you can watch here.

I share Jonah’s documentary today not simply because I am a proud dad, but because its message is so timely. During WWII, American Jews took a stand, helped to change American policy and ensured that a greater number of European Jews and other war refugees could come to America. If American Jews had not taken a stand, it is likely that President Roosevelt would not have changed his position on immigration and our country would have continued to turn her back on those suffering unimaginable terror.

Whether you are in D.C. at the inauguration or celebrating from afar, whether you are in D.C. protesting President Trump or protesting from afar, Jonah’s documentary reminds us that while the President has tremendous power, we the people have a great deal of power. Whether we support President Trump or not, we, as Americans, have the ability, the right and the obligation to be part of the process and do our part to shape our national agenda.

It is my hope that no one sits out the Trump presidency. President Trump, the United States Congress, the Supreme Court, the citizens of our country and the global community need each of our voices to help define what our nation stands for and how we move into the future. As American-Jews we simply need to watch Jonah’s video to be reminded that we’re part of a community that has taken bold action in the past, action that has changed history for the better. Now is our chance to take bold action once again and do what we can to ensure that our country pursues a path that reflects the values we hold dear.

Shabbat Shalom and God Bless America!

 

 

 

Stick With Love

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As we prepare for the inauguration of President-elect Trump and the beginning of a new chapter in our American story, I find it appropriate to use this week’s letter to share the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life and legacy we celebrate this coming Monday. Dr. King’s words, delivered in 1967, capture a powerful message that every American needs to take to heart as we begin 2017.

I have…decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate…I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.

And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride.

And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair…we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” Annual Report Delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 16 August 1967, Atlanta, GA.

May we all stick with love.

Israel, America, The UN & Our Own Voices

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This message was sent out to my congregation last Friday morning, January 6. As a result of the attack at our airport in Ft. Lauderdale that same day, it was not posted on the blog until today. Our community sends our deepest condolences to the families of those who were lost and prayers of healing to those who were injured.

I hope you all welcomed 2017 with family and friends. May it be a good year, one filled with happiness, health and celebrations!

It certainly promises to be a busy, complicated political year. Among the many issues that our nation will be focusing on will be the US-Israel relationship.  As you know, late last month, the United States chose not to veto a blatantly anti-Israel resolution (Resolution 2334) that came before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The resolution passed on December 23, 2016 and many in the Jewish world were stunned. Several prominent American Jewish organizations (but not all!) and US leaders spoke out against the resolution, our nation’s abstention and the remarks made by Secretary Kerry after the resolution was passed.

To learn more about why so many were deeply troubled by UNSC Resolution 2334 and our nation’s abstention, I encourage you to read the following responses from these organizations:

The Anti-Defamation League

The American Jewish Committee 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations

Jewish Federations of North America

Just yesterday, in a remarkable show of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved their own resolution (by a vote of 342 to 80, including 100 Democrats) that denounces and seeks the repeal or fundamental alterations of UNSC Resolution 2334. The Senate is expected to vote and approve a similar resolution cosponsored by Senator Schumer (D), Senator Cardin (D) and our own Senator Rubio (R), very soon. I know that many of you have been contacting our elected officials, asking them to speak out against Resolution 2334. I thank you for doing so. Please don’t forget to thank them for their support!

While the actions taken by Congress help to secure the US-Israel relationship as we enter the new year, there is still much work to be done. A recent poll shows that 35% of Americans support UNSC Resolution 2334 while 28% say they are opposed to it – and 36% have no opinion. These numbers tell us that if we were appalled by the UNSC resolution, we are in the minority here in the United States. Yes, these numbers, coupled with the actions on Capitol Hill this week, suggest that despite being a minority, our voices are heard and our leaders are responding. But, as with many political issues that are important to us, we can’t stop speaking out and standing with Israel.

Tremendous political changes are coming and we must ensure that President-elect Trump, his administration and the 115th US Congress strengthen the US-Israel relationship. We must also continue to educate ourselves about Israel and the Israel-Palestine Conflict. It is imperative that we get the facts and share the facts– especially since only 28% of Americans were opposed to UNSC 2334. I encourage you to bookmark the following sites that will help you stay up-to-date on important matters affecting Israel: The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Stand With Us and Honest Reporting.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is one of the most important organizations that supports a strong US-Israel relationship. I am thrilled that some of you will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington., DC in a few months. While I won’t be able to attend this year’s conference due to my sabbatical schedule, I am glad that Ramat Shalom will be represented! I encourage all of you to visit AIPAC’s website, sign up for their email updates and learn how you can stand with Israel.

If you have any questions about the UNSC resolution or any matters regarding Israel, please don’t hesitate to be in touch!