At DNC, rabbis (and a 14-year-old) draw from scripture to rebuke Donald Trump
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At DNC, rabbis (and a 14-year-old) draw from scripture to rebuke Donald Trump

Zoey Bailkin, 14, reads a passage from Isaiah at an interfaith gathering on Sunday, July 23, 2016, the eve of the Democratic National Convention. (Mikki K. Harris)
Zoey Bailkin, 14, reads a passage from Isaiah at an interfaith gathering on Sunday, July 23, 2016, the eve of the Democratic National Convention. (Mikki K. Harris)

Three rabbis and a Jewish girl want Donald Trump to know: This is how God does great.

Four Jewish moments at the Democratic National Convention and surrounding events have included veiled – or not so veiled – scripture-based rebukes of the Republican nominee’s rhetoric or positions.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, closed out the first night with an unmistakable take on the Trump-Pence campaign’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Alluding to the passage in Deuteronomy describing God as “great, mighty and awesome,” she said in the benediction from the podium at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia:

“God who is Great, Mighty and Awesome, in a season so filled with chatter of Who is Great and What is Great and What Shall Be Great, let us remember Scripture’s clear, simple explanation of greatness,” she said. “God is the great, the mighty and the awesome, for God defends the cause of the widow and the orphan, and loves the stranger residing among you. This is God’s greatness and this is the greatness the American people must strive to imitate.”

If the reference to greatness, protecting the widow and orphan and loving the stranger wasn’t clear enough, Schonfeld followed immediately: “God of history, help us to understand that this is the most important election of our lives.” Schonfeld has said she was speaking in a personal capacity, and not as head of the RA or member of any other group.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, also nodded toward the widow and the orphan, opening up the convention’s “Jewish Roundtable Meeting” on Tuesday with a lesson based on a 19th-century Hasidic reading of the commandment, “Remember what Amalek did to you.”

Leaving the vulnerable behind endangers everyone, the reading teaches. The commandment is in the singular, suggesting the targeted sinner had drifted from his community.

“The core teaching is that it wasn’t Amalek who was at fault, it was us, because we, the community allowed there to be stragglers to fall behind at the rear,” Pesner said. “The test of a community, the challenge to a nation, the mandate for humanity is to never allow there to be stragglers.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, the Conservative rabbi who leads the Interfaith Alliance, joined an imam, a priest and a minister on Sunday, the day before the formal convention, at a prayer session called “Stronger Together: In Pursuit of Love and Kindness.”

He offered an explanation of why Jewish congregations pray for wise governance, with a startling punchline:

“Where there is no respect for government, where the rule of law is replaced by the anger of the mob, our opponents become our enemies, our enemies become our demons, our demons become our leaders,” he said.

Moline is the former director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Zoey Bailkin, 14, from the Philadelphia area, joined other children in reading passages from an array of holy writings. She chose Isaiah, closing with a note of hope: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.”

 

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