After Trump victory, D.C. rabbis urge dialogue

Members of the Jewish community gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial for a Havdalah service on Saturday night. Photo by George Altshuler
Members of the Jewish community gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial for a Havdalah service on Saturday night.
Photo by George Altshuler

On Saturday night, about 200 people huddled around a Havdalah candle in front of the Lincoln Memorial — a symbol of American aspirations — to end Shabbat. They smelled the traditional spices and sang the traditional melodies, but they also sang “This Land Is Your Land” and passed around sign-up sheets.

The Havdalah ceremony, organized by the rabbis of Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, was a response to last week’s presidential election.

Throughout the Washington area, rabbis have responded to the election of Donald Trump by offering support to their congregations and encouraging dialogue in their communities and beyond.

“The election has opened up for me a new way of thinking about what a synagogue is,” said Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in Washington. “I think a synagogue should be a place where we help people learn and come to understand the environment in which we live.”

The day after the election. Zemel sent an email to his congregants. He wrote that he “slept the sleep of the disturbed with a pit in my stomach. I woke up in shock and to a new reality.”

Zemel said he received more than 100 responses. “Many people in the congregation are disturbed” by Trump’s election, he said.

Rabbi Avidan Milevsky of Kesher Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Georgetown, said that when it comes to elections, “ultimately, God is the one who is navigating leadership. It is important for a rabbi to convey that ultimately the heart of kings is in the hands of God.”

Milevsky said he doesn’t believe that rabbis should play an activist role in politics. Instead, his role is to offer a spiritual perspective on political events.

Many rabbis interviewed for this article said that their role is to support congregants regardless of   political beliefs. The rabbis of Adas Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, organized a service the evening after the election. It was followed by banjo music and what an email sent to congregants described as “comfort food.”

Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, a Reform congregation, said that many of her congregants have reached out to her with feelings of concern.

“Mostly [I’ve heard] anger, fear, worry, anxiety and disbelief,” she said. “Of course, some of my congregants voted for Trump, too. They are also my congregants, and I must support them as well. All that the temple does is nonpartisan.”

Schwartzman said that it is important to heal divisions.

“Our country is divided and wounded, and we hope that we will all be able to heal together,” she wrote in an email to her congregants.

In his email, Zemel wrote, “We all now feel the pain of a divided country, and we wonder how a house divided against itself can stand. Half our nation celebrates. Half of us mourn.”

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