By Abby Fisher
“We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” Abraham Joshua Heschel
Rabbi Heschel’s words are the foundation of our school community. While in their original context they refer specifically to the treatment of Blacks during the civil rights movement, there is no reason these words should not ring true in all instances of oppression in our society today. As an institution proudly bearing Rabbi Heschel’s name, we must honor him by fulfilling our ethical obligation to fight against injustice.
On an October 5 Town Hall meeting, we discussed the experience of Trump supporters in our school. The framing question was: as the minority in this school, would Trump supporters please share a moment they felt uncomfortable sharing their opinions?
The problem, as I see it, is that this group is by no means a stifled minority. I am often impolitely interrupted or even yelled at by members of this group. This is not to say we should ignore the fact that supporting Trump is a minority position in our school. In fact, in order to have a functioning democratic and pluralistic society, it is essential to listen to the minority opinion. But, in our community these voices are not being suppressed. They are often amplified; this Town Hall only amplified their voices further.
Generally, I would consider providing the school community with a fresh and different point of view tremendously positive. But, in the context of this polarizing election season, I felt it caused more harm than good. The current election is unparalleled in America in that a dangerous hatemonger is on the loose, whose very platform is based on degrading certain groups of Americans.
In having a conversation contextualized by the discomfort of Trump supporters, we showed additional care to the members of our community who often show little care for others. Furthermore, we legitimized a candidate who has repeatedly insulted and even verbally attacked oppressed or minority groups.
This issue is larger than Democrat versus Republican. Showing support for this man’s supporters is antithetical to Rabbi Heschel’s values and the values of our high school. Even if this Town Hall was not an active endorsement of Trump’s ideology, in giving students a platform to share their support for Trump, we condone this type of behavior. We are essentially saying it is okay for someone running to represent all of America to debase groups of Americans. We are legitimizing and justifying his behavior.
Many people feel we have an obligation to give Trump’s supporters a voice in our community conversation about politics as the Republican Party has thrown its weight behind him and we are a pluralistic school. But, “Bamakom she’ein bo anashim, hishtadel lehiot ish” – in a place where there are no upstanding and moral people, strive to be a moral person. Our tradition as well as our school’s namesake requires us to rise against immorality.
We forfeit the right to learn in Rabbi Heschel’s name as long as we continue to legitimize the humiliation of Americans with disabilities, Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, and American women. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.