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Biden’s Jewish Supporters Breathe a Loud Sigh of Relief
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Biden’s Jewish Supporters Breathe a Loud Sigh of Relief

Celebrations cap four days of waiting -- and four years of unprecedented political polarization.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

A reveler joins one of the many spontaneous celebrations in New York following news that the 2020 presidential election had been called for Democrat Joe Biden, Nov. 7, 2020. (Andrew/Flickr Commons)
A reveler joins one of the many spontaneous celebrations in New York following news that the 2020 presidential election had been called for Democrat Joe Biden, Nov. 7, 2020. (Andrew/Flickr Commons)

“Who else slept well for the first time in what feels like years?” tweeted Rabbi Joshua Stanton of New York’s East End Temple on Monday morning.

His sentiment, adjoined by the hashtags “#rejoice #recover #democracy,”  echoed a communal sigh of relief expressed by a large segment of New York’s Jewish community in response to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump.

The major networks called the race for Biden on Saturday morning, after four-days of ballot-counting following last Tuesday’s Election Day. The announcement was greeted with spontaneous celebrations by Biden’s supporters, and disappointment and defiance by Trump supporters.

Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses, assistant rabbi at Romemu, a Jewish renewal synagogue that now meets on Zoom for Shabbat services, described hearing the news of Biden’s electoral victory during services on Saturday morning. “I was overcome,” she wrote in a Facebook post describing the moment. “We were in the midst of Torah reading, so out of respect for the Author of that holy book I waited until we finished the Aliya and then shouted out the news to the entire community.” She then “broke down in tears.”

“I had a palpable experience of being freed from our national abuser. That at some point, God and Universe willing, we will be safe from further damage,” she wrote. “A powerful sense of relief and also a sense of the depth of the horror that had been wreaked on us all, but most especially the vulnerable in our midst.”

Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses at a street march turned celebration Saturday. Via Facebook

After services, Rabbi Cohler-Esses took to the New York City streets via bicycle to witness the historic moment and join in on the celebration. She compared finding out the news of Biden’s victory to “that celebratory moment in the mythic Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch is pronounced dead. “Evil, God willing, is losing its grip on our nation.”

The response — largely reflecting relief and euphoria — underlines the uniquely anxiety-ridden and divisive nature of the 2020 presidential election. While the Democratic-Republican split among Jews has held relatively steady over the past few presidential election cycles — the latest polls gave Biden a 3-1 advantage over Trump among Jews — the Trump era was marked by a historically polarized electorate.

Trump’s Jewish supporters saw him as a strong supporter of Israel, defender of religious liberty and scourge of a “radical” left. His detractors saw him as a demagogue who flouted the rule of law, denigrated minorities, turned the country’s back on immigrants, ignored science and politicized and botched the response to the coronavirus.

Those stakes were reflected in comments by many groups.

“We are heartened that our country will soon have new leaders who are committed to making America a leader in guaranteeing global human rights and creating a respectful, inclusive and anti-racist America,” wrote Robert Bank, president and CEO of American Jewish World Service, in a statement. “Crucially, we will work with this new administration to create a world that honors equality and justice; celebrates diversity; and respects the essential value of every person.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, congratulated Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on their victory, adding that her organization “looks forward to working in partnership with them to undo the assault to human rights and democracy of the past four years, and to work for a country that protects the human rights of everyone.”

In Orthodox circles, where the Trump ticket was largely, though not exclusively, favored, member organizations walked a delicate line in response to the election results.

The Orthodox Union sent out a statement congratulating the new president and vice-president-elect.

Crucially, we will work with this new administration to create a world that honors equality and justice.

“With campaigning now over, we look forward to working with all Americans to mend the divisions in our society and bring the country together to overcome the current challenges we face,” the O.U. said in a statement. Issues that will be of concern to the Orthodox community include “keeping the U.S.-Israel relationship strong, thwarting Iran’s malign activities, expanding educational opportunity and choice for all American children, defending America’s ‘first freedom’ of religious liberty and standing against anti-Semitism,” the statement continues.

Among Orthodox groups that have been vocally supportive of  Trump’s policies and administration, the response was muted. The National Council of Young Israel, a large network of Orthodox synagogues, did not respond to a request for comment and had not yet released a public statement. Representatives of New York’s chasidic movements — including Chabad Lubavitch, headquartered in Crown Heights — had not yet released a statement on the election results at the time of publication.

On Monday evening, Agudath Israel of America, a large umbrella group representing the charedi Orthodox community, put out a letter to president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president elect Kamala Harris extending “warm congratulations” on behalf of the organization’s leadership.

Agudath Israel of America has always enjoyed close working relationships with the White House, irrespective of which political party happens to be its occupant.

“Agudath Israel of America has always enjoyed close working relationships with the White House, irrespective of which political party happens to be its occupant,” wrote Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudath Israel.

On the Jewish political right, where support for Trump and his hawkish, pro-Israel policies dominated, responses to Saturday’s election news ranged from unfounded claims of voter fraud — “The Art of the Steal!,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, tweeted Sunday — to optimism that the new Biden administration will continue to build upon the gains the Trump administration made in the Middle East.

“I believe that President-elect Biden’s victory will likely accelerate the establishment of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel,” wrote Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an interfaith group that operates in the Middle East. “Biden is someone the Palestinians respect and have a track record with. They feel that he understands their perspective when it comes to peace negotiations with the Israelis so whereas they weren’t even willing to come to the table under the Trump administration, they will now be more likely to do so.”

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