As we go to press with this November edition of the Jewish World, our compatriots are voting for the next president, members of Congress and myriad other elective offices.
While the polls indicate a “blue wave” in 2020, we still carry a residue of shock and disappointment from the 2016 election aftermath. We knew it would be bad to elevate an ignorant and vile narcissist to the position of commander-in-chief; but we could hardly imagine the dismal social landscape of 2020: masses isolating in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economy on life support with millions unemployed, and an explosion of rage and riots in Minneapolis following the police killing of George Floyd.
I made my electoral preferences clear last month, endorsing the Democratic presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — and Sen. Tina Smith. Most Jewish World readers are on the same page, believing that a second Trump term would be catastrophic — deleterious to the health of the planet and destructive of what’s left of American democracy.
“The Republican administration descended on the federal government, perverted the remit of federal agencies, and eviscerated federal departments in a fury of looting the national assets,” writes Darryl Pinckney in The New York Review of Books. The magazine featured a group of writers holding forth on the 2020 elections; Pinckney’s contribution was titled “A Society on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
He continues: “They hadn’t been convinced in 2016 they’d get in. Opportunists have been running amok ever since. No restraint at the top means the shit everywhere is so out in the open and undisguised that everything feels unprecedented. Too many white people would rather let bullies wreck the Republic than have democracy work if that would mean the system also working for people they prefer not thinking about. Plenty of nonwhites want to be white. Nonvoters and voters who didn’t care took it for granted that they’d be fine or just as bad off no matter who won. These bloody days have eliminated that category.”
I don’t want to rehash the previous month’s editorial. Rather, I want to mention that this past Oct. 27 marked the second anniversary of the massacre of 11 Jewish souls, members of three congregations housed in the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the history of the U.S.
Ahead of commemorative events in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, a new book was published. Bound in the Bond of Life: Pittsburgh Writers Reflect on the Tree of Life Tragedy (University of Pittsburgh Press) is edited by Beth Kissileff and Eric Lidji. Many members of the Twin Cities Jewish community know Kissileff from the years she lived in St. Louis Park, with her husband, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, and their children. Perlman, a Pittsburgh native, is the rabbi of New Light Congregation; he somehow escaped the carnage at the synagogue on 10/27, as the tragedy is referred to in Pittsburgh (April 2019 AJW).
In his essay, “Eleh Ezkerah, Nusach Pittsburgh,” published in Bound in the Bond of Life, Perlman writes at the top: “The Pittsburgh massacre belongs to the ages. That is how it stands out in memory. The shooter carefully plotted to take Jewish life operating on his absurd premise that Jews were aiding and abetting Guatemalan refugees on the southwestern border of the United States and that this undermined the safety of others. Someone needed to act, the shooter felt.”
Perlman adds that the shooter, who had a “cache of weapons and a map of synagogues in his car,” likely planned on greater carnage as part of his benighted mission. But he was caught by the police.
“Pittsburgh now joins the ranks of other pogroms reaching back to ancient times,” writes Perlman.
In fact, the Pittsburgh gunman’s anti-immigrant animus reflected the statements and actions of President Trump, who was warning of caravans from Central America “invading” the U.S. One of the Trump administration’s great crimes was the “zero tolerance” regime on the southern border, which separated families and locked up young children in ICE-run detention camps. Children as young as five years were detained in chain-link pens, without adequate food, beds or showers. I also will mention that presidential aide Stephen Miller devised these policies, which stand as a betrayal of his Jewish heritage, which includes family members who survived the Holocaust.
Hopefully, the Trump moment will recede in our memory like a horrific nightmare. In fact, after the 2020 elections we will confront all of the same long-running social problems that have been featured in the pages of the Jewish World over recent months.
However, we should not feel defeated. Each of us has something to contribute to the task of social uplift.
I quoted Darryl Pinckney at the top of this editorial. This is his conclusion to the essay in The New York Review of Books:
“People are desperate to act, even destructively. We are a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not civil war. We are only at the beginning of a Great Emergency. Something suicidal and reckless is out there. Everyone gives a shove to a tumbling wall, the Chinese proverb has it. I live with a beautiful optimist, someone who has known war zones, revolution. Do not go to sleep angry; do not wake in the middle of the night suffocating from existential dread. Get up with hope. Let everyone be a risen sun, starting with yourself.”
— Mordecai Specktor
editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com