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Opinions | After election, a secure Jewish future requires civic engagement

On election eve, I gathered with elected officials and civic leaders who recently had traveled to Israel with JCRC. I asked everyone to share a lasting impression from their time in Israel. The responses were poignant reflections on the inspiration they continue to draw from the Israeli leaders whom they met, including Shimon Peres, z”l. James Loduca, vice president for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said, “I’ve learned to reject hyperbole and tune out the loud voices on the extreme left and right. They do not represent the majority of us.”

With the political campaigns over, and the 45th president of our United States now elected, we must consider how our Jewish community will exercise its values and champion democracy moving forward. How will we reassert civility and reject extremism when this election has felt so personal?

It has felt personal for the economically marginalized and politically forgotten. It has felt personal for women and minorities, so many of whom are vulnerable and unheard. But if there is one way in which Americans remain bound together, it is that every American feels the need to be seen and represented.

There is no opting out of democracy; to do so would abdicate one’s moral responsibility to be part of our whole and to see others as part of that whole as well. This American democracy has provided a diasporic safe haven for Jews. And history has demonstrated that the Jewish community has a special interest in being engaged in the public square and civic life. Our country is strengthened by the active participation of its minority communities in civic life.

The time has come to reject hyperbole. As Dan Glass, executive director of the Brandeis School of San Francisco, reminded parents this week: “We must not, any of us, give in to our basest impulses to cast political rivals as demons, as idiots, as less than human. Every one of us has a responsibility to carry the light of our own kindness and integrity with us, to repair our democracy and the world with each word, each conversation.”

Jewish tradition teaches us that our words matter. It also teaches that we do not just pray and hope that God delivers. Rather, we “pray with our feet.” Our sages taught that we have a sacred role in partnership with God to advance the world in which we want to live. Our part of the partnership is to become engaged and to do so proudly, as Jews. We must run for public office, and write for public consumption. We must serve on public commissions. We need to engage in cross-racial and interfaith work. We need to coalesce with other groups that share our community’s aspirations and values.

It is incumbent upon each of us to actively cherish our diverse, pluralistic, vibrant democracy. Early Wednesday morning, Michael Pappas, the executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, reached out to let us know that he is here and supportive of our community, and reminded us of the importance of our community’s civic work.

Our communal visions of a just society and a secure Jewish future here and in Israel won’t happen through prayer alone, but only through our words and our deeds.

Abby Michelson-Porth is the executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.