A letter to my Israeli brothers and sisters

What many of us in the US feel when you applaud Trump.

THE AUTHOR urges us not to applaud. US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE AUTHOR urges us not to applaud. US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I am not a Middle East expert. I have not formally studied Israeli affairs. I have several family members in Israel, but in no way can I claim to understand the Israeli Jewish experience in its myriad forms. What I can say is only that I have a Jewish heart.
And so I am going to speak plainly to you so that you understand a bit about the American Jewish experience from one perspective. So that you can understand why it is so hard when any single one of our Jewish brothers and sisters, no matter where they live in the world, voices support for our president. And why it is so hard when the Israeli delegation stands up and applauds our president at the United Nations.
Like some of you I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Two of my grandparents literally walked out of Auschwitz half alive and began the long journey toward basic human dignity. I won’t go into their stories out of respect for their privacy, but suffice it to say that the Holocaust was a defining context for my upbringing, no matter how little it was discussed. My sister and I quickly grasped the tacit lessons of our family past, from eating every scrap of food to dressing beautifully in our modest clothes, and to “seizing the day” as my grandmother said in her Hungarian accent.
There was also the significant matter of taking care of those in whose shoes we once walked – the poor, the marginalized, those left behind. My grandmother took care of her fellow Hungarian immigrants and family through cooking for them, giving them money with no strings attached, and sending them clothing. It did not matter that they were hassidic and she was not. It did not matter that they had vastly different views of the world.
She just did it.
My mother continued that tradition with other cultures, tirelessly doing the small but unheralded work of supporting the marginalized in this country – from her students who had few resources to new immigrants from countries like Brazil and Iran.
Again, not the loud political version of standing up for those who have been marginalized, but the small, kind acts of helping a neighbor. All done with a Jewish heart.
My sister spent her formative professional years as a legal defender for underage children who did not have the resources for attorneys.
And so my female heroes informed my worldview as I have worked in schools in high-poverty, low-income areas of New York City, eventually opening a school in Brooklyn to ensure that students with less money still have the same access to top universities as those with much more money and racial privilege.
Given that backdrop, the two most harrowing dates that my family has experienced have been November 8, Election Day, and August 12, the Charlottesville KKK march.
November 8 represented a return to that awful stench of silence that defined our plight in the 1930s. No, Trump is not Hitler. Not even close.
But he was a major political candidate of a major American party who...
slandered women. Ridiculed the disabled.
Questioned the integrity of a fallen Muslim solider hero. Uttered racist remarks about Mexicans. And employed Jew haters. And included concrete and obvious antisemitic themes in his campaign. And refused to name Jews as being impacted by the Holocaust.
And our people – my people – elected him.
Out of the stench of our silence, Trump emerged.
I’m not a radical left-winger who says that Trump’s “not my president.”
He is. And we did this. And I did this. Because I didn’t do enough to stop it.
Then on August 12, the KKK marched down the main streets of Charlottesville with torches ready to inflict violence. Chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
My Israeli brothers and sisters – imagine that! Imagine Nazis marching up and down the hills of Haifa with torches chanting “Death to the Jews!” With no federal intervention. Just local cops trying to prevent absolute catastrophe.
Then from our president, silence.
Then “there are good people on both sides.”
My Jewish heart is broken. I do not know what to say to my deceased grandparents when I say their Yartzheit.
To tell them that their civic mindedness was in vain? That their journey toward dignity is being undone? To tell them that we are treating American citizens the same way they were treated 70 years ago? To tell them that we have returned to silence? To tell them that there are actual real Jews supporting this man? And that some of our Israeli brothers and sisters are cheering the loudest? At the very least I had hoped that our tiny Jewish People across the globe might move against this fit of American insanity and sickness. But to hear that so many of my Israeli brothers and sisters are supportive of our president because of the illusion that he is “pro-Israel”? Again my heart is breaking.
I don’t care about your politics or your religion. I don’t care if you are labor or Likud, Shas. Settler or peacenick.
If you have a Jewish heart and it is beating please stand next to us. Please have our back. Please don’t abandon us as we endure the sights and images of a return to antisemitism in this country and a president who supports it.
Please speak up.
At the very least, stop applauding it.