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Trump is President and We Are Awake

Today is Friday, January 20th, 2017. Today Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America.

This Shabbat, Jews everywhere read parashat shemot, our book of freedom. The book that gives us the image of a parted sea, a mixed multitude crossing together in song. The book that gives us Moses the imperfect leader, who learns how to speak truth to power. The book that gives us the ten commandments – the giving and receiving of ethical law.

Tonight, the winds of chance gave us this parasha. There’s no richer story of justice in our tradition. And in a paranoid, fearful place in my heart I cannot help but hear foreshadowing when I read:

“A new King arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites the various labors they were forced to perform” (Exodus 1:8, 1:13-14). 

If President Trump’s appointments for key leadership positions foreshadow what is in store for the nation, we have reason to worry –

  • Scott Pruitt was picked to lead the EPA, though he has sued the department 14 times in an attempt to foil the Clean Power Plan. Both Pruitt and two other appointees are climate change skeptics
  • Senator Jeff Sessions is in confirmation hearings to become our next Attorney General. Our own Jonah Pesner, head of the Reform Action Center wrote –

The Reform Movement strongly opposes the nomination of Senator Sessions as Attorney General. Senator Sessions’ testimony failed to signal a clear departure from his longstanding record of insufficient commitment to voting rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, immigration reform and church-state separation. Senator Sessions’ record and testimony causes us to believe that, as Attorney General, he would stand in the way of the Justice Department’s mandate to enforce and protect these fundamental rights.

  • Or education pick Betsy Devos, a billionaire who has lobbied to expand charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers without any experience with public education
  • And we of course can’t forget our new Vice President Mike Pence, who would hit the delete key on my gay marriage if he had the opportunity.

I could go on, but I don’t have to.

A new King arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.

A new President arose over America who does not value so much of what we find precious and essential.

Yesterday I found inspiration not from scripture, but from twitter when broadway actor Audra McDonald tweeted—

“Remember, tomorrow we are not crowing a king, or bowing down to a dictator. Tomorrow our new employee starts his temp job. We’re the boss.”

The story of Exodus is not a story of defeat, but of waking up, becoming aware of the suffering around us and then moving towards action.

  • The Israelites are slaves for 400 years, and then God wakes up and witnesses their pain
  • Moses is raised in the Pharaoh’s palace, but it is only when he is “grown up” that he wakes up and defends a slave from the cruelty of the task master.

The Midrash asks – what does it mean for Moses to be “grown up?” Doesn’t everyone “grow up?” The rabbis answer – When Moses grew up, he did not grow up like the rest of humanity – He grew to be capable of witnessing pain, taking righteous action and understanding what is ethical and just.

Moses’ wake up call continues in Exodus-

  • The burning bush wakes him up to the presence of God and to his responsibility
  • Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let the people go wakes Moses up, encourages him to speak truth to power.
  • Mount Sinai wakes him up to ethical law, to what it means to draw a community together through shared values

The election of Donald Trump as President has woken us up. In the past weeks and months I’ve watched as Temple Israel congregants have upped their justice work – in this community and in partnership with other communities and organizations. I’ve witnessed people who first woke up in the sixties or seventies, waking up anew. I’ve witnessed people who are always awake to injustice find new fire in their bellies for the long road ahead. I’ve witnessed children as young as five or six years old ask the most essential questions about justice; and I’ve witnessed our teenagers who are off to college and adulthood in the coming years, leave with eyes wide open, with analyses of race and class and gender that are lightyears ahead. We are awake – we might fear what is to come, but the congregants of this community have taught me what it looks like to enter a period of uncertainty and struggle, with eyes wide open and hearts brimming with love.

That is how we are responding and how we will continue to respond.

So now, we look to a different set of individuals who are foreshadowing our shared future

  • We look to Andy Tarsy who has meaningfully connected this community to the work of the NAACP, and with Kathy Weinman and Lauren Lapat lead our racial justice initiatives
  • We look to Tali Puterman, social justice organizer, who most weeks doubles her required hours ensuring that our congregants, young and old are powerfully engaged in both organizing, and direct service.
  • We look to those working to support the resettlement of a Syrian refugees – Jen Grella, Jackie Gelb, Susie Levin, Bridget Samburg, Jessica Berns, Sandra Wixted, Barbara Berke, Susan Michaels and so many others, in fact 600 congregants in total, who have gathered supplies, resources, funds and skills to support this project.
  • We look to our member State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, who recently told a room full of local politicians that “we have been patient long enough. The time is ripe to do right on true criminal justice reform.”
  • We look to Joan Rachlin who has pulled together an incredible group of environmental experts and activists, who have already helped this community “go green,” and will continue to fight climate change with every resource at their disposal.
  • We look to Deb Putnoi whose beautiful artwork inspires resistance
  • We look to Cindy Rowe, Fran Godine, Sally Mechur and others who work tirelessly with organizations such as GBIO, the Greater Boston Organizing Initiative and JALSA, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action to create meaningful change in our world.

We look outside our community –

  • We look to the Montana police force that hung a mezuzah on the door of the precinct in response to a neo- nazi threat against the local Jewish community
  • We look to the hundreds of young queer people who two nights ago held a dance party outside Mike Pence’s home
  • We look to the hundreds of thousands of women who are marching on Washington, Boston, New York City, San Francisco and bringing their daughters and sons and partners and friends.

Though the times are trying, and the world seems bleak, when we open our eyes we can see the incredible light created by those who resist, by those who refuse to back down.

We sit here tonight in a moment when it is impossible to not look forward —

Forward into a future where our new President’s policies may cause unprecedented havoc for our democracy.

Forward into a future that relies upon the strength, power and creativity of all those willing to stand up and speak out.

There are many fears and many rumors of what is to come.

Trumps administration may defund the National Endowment for the Humanities, but they cannot take away art. Or beauty. Or creativity.

Their policies might make it more difficult to be queer or transgender, but they cannot take away our love or alter our identities.

Their policies and funding decisions can hurt our public schools, but they cannot control what we teach our children.

And most of all, their policies and opinions cannot and will not shift the values and priorities of this holy community.

Today is Friday, January 20th, 2017. Today Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America.

Today and everyday we commit ourselves to justice, love and peace. Today we recommit ourselves to stand up to injustice, to fight for what we believe in.