My Hope for a Shared Civic Space

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, we don’t yet have a declared winner and a concession in this week’s Presidential election. Much will be said in the coming months as the votes and the exit polls are analyzed and debated. But just this week, I found a series of interactions to be particularly illuminating.

Midday Wednesday I shared a tweet from Josh Kraushaar, a columnist at National Journal. He wrote that according to one exit survey "Nineteen percent (19%) of Trump voters said they kept their support for Trump a secret from most of their friends, compared to just 8% of Biden voters." A short while later I posted a Forward op-ed by Bethany S. Mandel, in which she shared what she describes as public abuse in Jewish spaces in response to her saying that she would vote for President Trump this year.

I shared these with the intention of exploring why the President underperforms in polls relative to his actual vote totals. But what happened next is what’s sticking in my head today.

Withing minutes of those tweets, I began receiving DMs and texts from colleagues challenging me on why I would ever post anything by Mandel. Please understand that we’ve been in a public relationship for many years including, for example, a panel discussion we did together for The Forward earlier this year on Jewish life post-COVID. Then, also within minutes, I heard from friends, including activists in Boston’s Jewish community and within JCRC’s work, who told me, essentially: “It’s me.” “I’m the Jewish Trump voter who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing that part of me in my circles.”

I say this to lift up two observations as we await the conclusion of counting and begin shifting into the next phase of our electoral process.

First, I want to encourage us all, once again, to be mindful that any outcome (to almost any election) will disappoint and dismay some members of our cherished community. That’s a feature of a pluralistic, diverse and broad community – not a flaw.

Second, there’s a deep brokenness to our politics and our community when members have beliefs, fears, hopes, and values that they don’t feel comfortable expressing to their friends and peers. And here I should add that I’m mindful that our progressive members also regularly articulate great hesitation about expressing certain values and concerns in group settings, and they too describe to me the abuse they’ve received in Jewish spaces for doing so. This is not a one-way problem.

More than anything in the wake of this election, I’m sitting with this struggle that has and will continue to challenge us in the years to come. To truly be one community, we’ve got to find a way to be honest with one another and to hold our differences in a way that allows us to engage with them. I can’t honor your fear if I don’t understand it. I can’t join in your hope if I don’t even know what it is. And if I don’t see all of you as who you are, as a person in this world and in this work, then I’m not seeing you fully as part of Tzelem Elohim, created in the Divine Image as we all are.  

I’m not going to offer a solution here today and frankly this is not going to be solved by waving a magic wand. It’s going to take a commitment by all of us who want to be in community across our differences, and it is going to take a lot of hard work to build curiosity, empathy, and respect. I for one think that it will be worth the effort. If we don’t find a way back to a shared civic space, the centrifugal forces of our differences will continue to tear us apart as we slug it out to a standstill over and over again. That world is a much harder one to build a share future in. I remain convinced that we can do better, and committed to doing my part in helping us realize our potential as a strong and united community.

I hope that you will join me in making a commitment to that work.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy