On Tuesday, November 22, over 250 people from across Chicago came together with JCUA to reject bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism, and to rededicate themselves to standing with the oppressed. Rabbi Megan GoldMarche of Metro Chicago Hillel delivered these powerful words.
On election night, my wife, Paige, and I decided to host a party for our college students. We figured it would be a historic night – we’d eat red white and blue popcorn and feel good about America, and progress, and the fact that our country validated our values.
As we sat down to watch the election returns, it was clear we had made a mistake. While it may have been good for the students to be in a safe place surrounded by friends and supportive mentors, this was not the party we had envisioned, and both Paige and I were unprepared for the reality of the returns.
The days that have followed have involved counseling students who are scared for their own rights as queer young people; who are worried about friends whose status in America is less secure than their own, worried about access to birth control and health care, and have fears about where America is going.
I also heard from students who felt judged because they did not vote for Clinton. Or because they supported Trump. Or because they decided not to vote. I listened to them as well.
I spent the days following the election listening to all of these voices. I spent my free time reading the hundreds of emails that flooded my Jewish community leadership listservs, signing petitions, texting friends in disbelief, and mostly feeling a bit numb.
On the Sunday after the election, sitting in the Philadelphia airport, I finally broke down listening to Kate McKinnon in her Hillary garb singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluyah on Saturday Night Live. I sat and cried as I played the video again and again until Paige had to make me stop. I was crying because the narrative I had been telling myself about the passage of time had been crushed. I believe the arc of history bends towards justice — this is my experience, this is my reality as a woman rabbi who in 2016 can be out as a lesbian living in a house purchased by generous donors under the auspices and with the support of the Jewish United Fund in Chicago where my wife and I serve as role models for young Jewish adults. The America I live in is good to me. It was good to my grandparents who were children of immigrants and worked to provide for their families. It has been good to my parents, who were able to raise my brother and I with every luxury a person could need, in the Chicago suburbs where I felt safe as a Jew and woman and eventually where I was able to come out at age 28 and celebrate marriage equality passing two years later — and 9 months after that marry my wife with 18 rabbis in the room — America and Judaism has been good to me.
But America has not been good to everybody. For many people this election awakened us to this reality. But on election night once the students had left and we sat and cried with trusted friends I turned to one of them and said, this is not revealing something new, this is revealing what was already here. Alan Lew writes in “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared”:
At Rosh Hashana we begin to acknowledge the truth of our lives. The truth is written wherever we look. It is written on the streets of our city; it is written in our bodies; it is written in our lives and our hearts.… we are terrified of the truth.
But this is needless terror.
What is there is already so…Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse. Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away. And we know we can stand the truth. It is already here and we are already enduring it…
On Rosh Hashana Jewish individuals face our truths, and that’s how we gain the strength and perspective to do the work to improve ourselves. This election was a catastrophic moment of awakening in our country that revealed to us what so many others had already been enduring. For those who have been paying close attention or for those for whom America has been less kind, this election was far from shocking — it showed the truth that racism and xenophobia and hatred are widespread, the truth that the American dream is so far from reality for so many people that trusting it or our system is a joke. It revealed that we have so much work to do.
A week after the election, I was sitting in this synagogue for the bris of my best friend’s son, who had been born on election day, and as Rebecca, the new mom led us in the opening prayers I found myself crying again as Leonard Cohen’s Halleluyah was sung to psalm 146- as we sang the qualities of God that I so cherish, tears ran down my face.
עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט, לָעֲשׁוּקִים–נֹתֵן לֶחֶם, לָרְעֵבִים; יְהוָה, מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים.
יְהוָה, פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים–יְהוָה, זֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים; יְהוָה, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים.
יְהוָה, שֹׁמֵר אֶת-גֵּרִים–יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה יְעוֹדֵד;
God, who secures justice for those who are wronged, gives food to the hungry. God sets prisoners free who restores sight to the blind; God makes those who are bent stand straight; God loves the righteous and watches over the stranger; God gives courage to the orphan and widow.
As we sang these words, I cried because I so badly want this God to be present, I cried because I wanted to believe our country was different, and I cried because once again Judaism was giving me an answer — Judaism was showing me that it is my job to make these things so.
The God described in this psalm feels absent right now to so many people in our midst — in our city, in our country. And just a few weeks ago we read that God created humans in God’s image, and this does not just mean that we must treat all people with dignity, as God-like. It also means that we are God’s image, that we have the chance every day with our actions to show the people of our city and of our country who God is. We can show them that God executes judgement for the oppressed, and gives bread to the hungry and raises up those who have been degraded by others. This has always been our duty — but now that the truth has come to light the timing is that much more urgent. I am newly returned to Chicago — almost everyone I have spent time with here since I moved back is Jewish and from backgrounds similar to me. I have work to do with young Jewish adults, with college students, but this is not enough.
So today I pledge to get to know a wider group of people in this city. To build partnerships across difference. To use my privileges and my power to be an ally to the most vulnerable in our midst and I promise to use my voice as a rabbi to urge those I interact with to do the same. I will attend local meetings. I will make calls to my senators and representatives. I will not become complacent. I will do my utmost to bring the God I pray for to life.
Rabbi Megan GoldMarche is a campus Rabbi at Metro Chicago Hillel and the Rabbi of Silverstein Base Hillel, an innovative new project of Hillel and JUF. Base Hillel in Chicago works with undergraduates, grad students and young Jewish adults. Base Hillel is committed to pluralism and founded on three core values: hospitality, learning, and service. Megan was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2014 and also received an MA in Jewish Gender and Women’s Studies and a certificate in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Megan in an alumna of the Wexner graduate fellowship and prior to joining Metro Chicago Hillel, Megan served as the Senior Jewish Educator at Columbia/Barnard Hillel.