I grew up in the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism, which branched off from the Conservative movement. The founder, Mordechai Kaplan, created the movement in the hopes of forging a new path to bridge some of the gaps between being American and being Jewish. He sought to lay out a way for people in the United States to live Jewishly, following important Jewish laws and traditions, while still being fully immersed in American culture and society.
As the movement itself describes, “Our decision making process … infuses our ‘path’ with the ethics and values that are our legacy, as well as the realities of our present cultural lives.” Few Jews in the United States are Reconstructionist, but most if not all Jews living here have to make important decisions throughout their lives as to how they can fulfill Jewish tradition and live up to Jewish values while engaging in the realities of their everyday lives. Can a 9-year-old girl miss Hebrew school for a soccer tournament? If I’m facing a critical deadline at work, do I miss Kol Nidre — or maybe do more work after services? The questions could go on and on.
Regardless of what questions we face or how we choose to practice our Judaism, very few if any of us make these important decisions about our Jewish life in a vacuum. Outside circumstances, from work to family obligations to vacation plans, require us to make decisions reflecting the reality of our lives.
We can use a similar lens to look at this November’s elections. In a perfect world we might think only of which candidate, whether it’s Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson or anyone else running for president, most closely matches our views. But with the Electoral College system in place today — in which 48 states have a winner-take-all rule — either the Republican or Democratic nominee invariably wins the election. So this year, either Trump or Clinton will be the next president of the United States.
We could work to overhaul the Electoral College system, but that takes much, much longer than the few weeks we have between now and Election Day. Just as we grapple with how to live Jewishly given the realities of everyday life in America, we should make our decision of who to vote for given the reality that Clinton or Trump will ultimately take the oath of office on Jan. 20.
Between Clinton and Trump, the choice is clear.
It’s terrifying to imagine a President Trump with the nuclear codes. We’ve already seen that Latino children are being taunted on the playground and that Trump supporters have been physically attacking Latinos throughout the country, no doubt spurred on by the racist rhetoric from the Republican nominee. Imagine how much worse that would be under a Trump presidency. LGBT rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights could be set back by decades if a President Trump nominates Supreme Court justices. (The next president is expected to nominate up to four such justices).
And as Trump made clear when he appointed David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, as his deputy campaign manager, a President Trump would open the floodgates even further for the wealthiest Americans and special interests to exert undue influence over our politics.
Clinton, on the other hand, has made clear that our history as a nation of immigrants is part of what makes our country great. She’s pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices who protect the rights of all Americans.
She, unlike Trump and his fellow Republicans, understands that climate change is a real threat that must be addressed. She’s put forth policies to make higher education more affordable, to create paid medical and family leave, and to enact commonsense gun safety regulations.
As Jewish Americans, we’re used to fitting our Judaism into the world we live in. This November, let’s use the same philosophy at the ballot box, where we’ll undoubtedly determine whether Trump or Clinton will be the next president. As voters go to the polls, I hope we’ll cast our ballots for Clinton so that she, not Trump, is sworn into the Oval Office.
Laura Epstein is the press secretary of People For the American Way and a member of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda.