(October 19, 2016 / JNS) By Andrew Lappin/JNS.org
I generally enjoy the camaraderie and communal spirit of my Reform synagogue. The Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur’s evening service) sermon, however, unexpectedly strayed into quasi-political territory. Exceedingly careful to avoid mentioning any candidate by name, the rabbi passionately implored 500 or so congregants to understand that “America is great not for what America does, but for what [and presumably whom] America tolerates.”
I agree that tolerance is an important American value, but I wondered what kind of history book would rank tolerance above exceptionalism, property rights, unity and the First Amendment.
It may have been a heartfelt plea, but the sermon bore little relevance to the spirit of the day. Yom Kippur calls on Jews to approach one another in a conciliatory and humble spirit. Although the congregation is largely weighted toward “one-percenters” and college-educated professionals who, according to polls, believe Donald Trump is a “bigoted miscreant,” there are members of the congregation who hold a far more nuanced assessment of Hillary Clinton’s demonstrated potential for serious damage. Sermons should not be designed to appease or placate.
But, if the majority of the congregation is already convinced that Clinton is the “morally superior choice,” then what purpose was served by moralistically jackhammering those who, in good conscience, and without malice or prejudice, reject the “party line?”
Despite the grimace of family and friends, in good conscience, and without malice or prejudice, I believe that Trump will do more to inspire our nation to return to our fundamental values. That would yield productivity and entrepreneurship, which would begin to address our economic stagnation. In contrast, Clinton is ready to define our future in terms of the status of illegal immigrants who commit criminal acts, or the fraudulently protected status of Islamic jihadists like the Gold Star dad? Am I a bigot for believing that all sovereign nations require secure borders? Or that Sharia law’s violent rejection of Western culture is anathema to the core values of our nation?
I am not a bigot. A bigot would not have invested a large proportion of his net worth in a crime-infested, downtrodden part of [Chicago] starved for investment. My work has, over the years, become a model and an inspiration to members of the community. Yes, along with the community, I have benefited financially, which ought to be an incentive for others to follow.
The act of trying to squeeze consensus for the sake of “purity” is actually an act of intolerance. If synagogues are to now join college campuses in fostering the establishment of “safe spaces,” then we are truly witnessing the implosion of what was once the bastion of inclusivity and tolerance. Perhaps even the late Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, highly venerated on the Reform agenda of social justice, might even have shuddered at this possibility.
Andrew “Andy” D. Lappin is a redeveloper based in Chicago and a contributor to the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. He serves as a board member on the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).