I have never thought of political campaigns as things that touch my soul, that challenge me to consider the essence of who I am. They have, during my lifetime, been about this or that candidate, one whose proposed policies I could stomach more (or less), or about whom I could feel greater or less enthusiasm. But 2016 was different.
I’ve never been an identity voter, so the fact that Clinton is a woman didn’t automatically put her at the top of my voting list. In fact, I was an early Sanders supporter. But once I decided that Sanders, at least for me, didn’t amount to more than a series of bumper-sticker slogans, I moved on to Clinton. And in doing so, I began to pay closer attention to Trump.
Trump didn’t have policies so much as bromides and red meat to offer. But clearly, that appealed to millions of Americans. What he did for me, however, was rather different. He forced me to confront my own humanity, to wrestle with what matters and why. Trump is easy—too easy, even—to critique as an ignorant bully, a loose cannon, and so on. But what I came to realize is that while he offended me deeply as a human being, it was as a Jew that I could not vote for him.
I thought about all the synagogue services I’d attended through the years, about the liturgy, and about each biblical story and its layered meaning. I thought about Passover, and about having been a slave in Egypt. I thought about how it was Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued baby Moses from his “ark” and how this flawed man, with God as his guide, led the Jewish people to freedom, to nationhood. I thought about Abraham, our forefather, who embodies complexity to an exquisite degree, and who was destined to be the father of not one, but two, great peoples. I thought about how Jews embrace the notion of tikkun olam, of healing the world. I thought about how we are commanded, as Jews, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide shelter to the stranger, and protect the widow and orphan. I thought about how we are commanded to be good stewards of the earth, to leave the land fallow at times so it can renew itself, and about the fact that we even have a holiday to celebrate trees.
I thought about how even the greatest figures in the Bible are tested, how they fail, how they are humbled and forced to confront their failings. I thought of the strong—even fierce—women of the Bible who stood their ground and fought for what and whom they loved. I hear the voices of our prophets, calling out the people for their failings, for their embrace of sinful, cruel, and selfish behavior. I hear Isaiah, whose words, ironically, sit etched in stone across from the United Nations, articulating his vision for a world free of strife, of war. These are the values and templates of my faith.
I thought, perhaps above all, of the words my son Sam read at Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem, during his bar mitzvah year. They are the famous words of Deuteronomy, “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof.” Justice, justice, you shall seek. And it became impossible for me as a Jew to cast a ballot for a man who not only challenged, but undermined, contradicted, and showed utter contempt for the Jewish values cited here, and more.
I owe a strange debt of gratitude to Donald J. Trump. He forced me to look at my own citizenship through the lens of my Jewish identity, and to merge the two in a way I had never done before. He compelled me to make voting as a Jew my highest and best priority. And in doing so, he set me free.