Opinion: Town Hall Election Discussion Fails to Uphold Heschel’s Values

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.

15 Comments on "Opinion: Town Hall Election Discussion Fails to Uphold Heschel’s Values"

  1. Charles Wolloch | October 20, 2016 at 10:45 am | Reply

    What I am writing is in no way an attack. It is simply my opinion on what the article. I don’t believe that using Heschel’s words and name against Trump is okay. Heschel’s values have nothing to do with Trump or this election and what is said about one side could be used against the other. Saying that “showing support for this man’s supporters is antithetical to Rabbi Heschel’s values” is not okay. We shouldn’t be associating Heschel’s words with certain people because it degrades Heschel and his words. When we start associating Heschel with others we lose an aspect of this school that makes it great. We lose the openness that this school tries to provide for its students. Furthermore, Republican supporters in this school are in fact a minority, but they are an outspoken minority.

  2. A previous Trump supporter, his “locker room talk” comments appalled and disgusted me. However, at the same time, I couldn’t see myself EVER voting for someone like Hillary who put out national security at risk repeatedly. If I could vote, I would not vote, or I would write in Mike Pence- he seems much more fit to be President than either of the candidates or the horifically anti-semitic Tim Kaine. I think it is incredibly unfair and not democratic or of Heschel values to group all Trump supporters together- just because some have not been so polite to you, it is unfair to group all Trump supporters together as rude. If you want to believe that not all Muslims are bad and shouldn’t be banned from entering the US (which I mostly agree with), you can’t then go be hypocritical and group all Trump supporters together as rude and violent. That takes away from the ENTIRE point of pluralism.

  3. Does this article have a place in our school and furthermore does it really address the bigger issue here in this conflict? Yes and no. First we need to establish one thing here, that Trump supporters do not necessarily support Trump’s morals’ they may even not support all of his policies. The big mistake the Opinion: Town Hall article makes is ignoring that many Trump supporters and currently 99% of the ones I’ve talked to don’t support Trump’s morals. “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.” This statement shows that the author does not care to separate Trump’s morals from those of his supporters.

  4. charlie sutton | October 20, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Reply

    When I finished reading Opinion: Town Hall, I was stunned and insulted. I believe that this article indirectly mutes a certain group of young adults, who are trying to voice and form their respected opinions. Donald Trump may be all of those things that are mentioned, but this is far greater than that. Any candidate can be deemed obnoxious or radical, however that does not give anyone the right to silence the opinions of their supporters. If the intention of the article was to cause a debate, the only debate it is starting is whether or not to allow Donald Trump supporters to voice their opinions, which I do not believe was the initial intention. The better and more productive debate would be regarding the political aspect of this election, which would allow all supporters of any candidate to express their opinions. If my opinion is going to be criticized and neglected, why would I even show up to one of these gatherings? Isn’t the whole point of pluralism to allow all opinions to be heard? I understand that the article did not directly say that Donald Trump supporters should not share their opinions, however it makes it extremely uncomfortable to do so. I do not need to be an avid supporter of Donald Trump to feel offended. This article suggests limiting the freedom of speech of students, which I do not believe is what the author would like to do.

  5. As emphasized in the article, one must “listen to the minority opinion.” However, this opinion piece does not listen. It stresses that “this group is by no means a stifled minority,” because of their allegedly rude behavior. However, this very article attempts to stifle Trump support and insults Trump supporters. Trump supporters have every justification to be upset.
    The stifling starts when the op-ed equates Donald Trump, who the article calls a “dangerous hatemonger,” with his supporters. The equation is not justified. I am a Hillary supporter but I only support her out of a disdain towards Trump; many Trump supporters support Trump out of a disdain towards Hillary. Additionally, just because someone supports a candidate, it does not mean they support the candidates’ behavior. Just because Hillary lies, it does not mean Hillary supporters are liars, and the same thing is true with Trump. The article further insults Trump supporters by calling them “members of our community who often show little care for others.” It is an insult to say someone does not care about others. Language like this is directly against the Heschelian values the article preaches about. It is hypocritical to attack one candidate as a hatemonger but at the same time spread hate against an entire subdivision of Heschel. I think any Trump supporter would be greatly offended by calling them uncaring and then asking for their opinions to be excluded from Heschel. The article urges readers to ignore Trump supporters because they are bullies and to not listen to what they say.
    At the same time, the article brings up a thought-provoking question: are our presidential candidates in line with Heschelian philosophy? Even though it appears Donald Trump displays the most anti-Heschelian behavior, I think every candidate violates Heschel’s principles in some way. However, by insulting Trump supporters, the article dilutes its argument.

  6. Democrats in this school may be the majority, but we are certainly unfairly spoken out against. This issue is not about politics, but rather, it’s about human decency. I’m writing this comment because somebody has to stand up for right. If a student were saying things as degrading as what Trump is saying, I would certainly hope that the school would take action.

  7. Kevin Chaikelson | October 20, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Reply

    Charles, I don’t view this article as a use of Rabbi Heschel’s words against a particular person. Rather, Trump and his movement have expressed and acted upon views that contradict Rabbi Heschel’s teachings. Instead of using Heschel’s values to attack a particular person, the article uses his values to speak out against injustice in our world – something Rabbi Heschel would, I am sure, wholeheartedly agree with.

    I acknowledge that not all Trump supporters are alike, and certainly not all rude and violent (though there are numerous examples of such people outside of our school community). There are, of course, nuances in every political situation – there is no black and white here. But because Trump and his movement stand for unjust values, all Trump supporters, regardless of their motivations, are aiding and abetting injustice.

    The whole idea that Democrats should not condemn the views of Trump supporters is NOT protecting free speech. On the contrary; Democrats should be allowed to speak their mind, and if Trump supporters decide to voice their opinions amidst a liberal majority, they must be prepared to deal with the consequences. Of course, no one should respond with violence, personal attacks or otherwise harmful language or actions – but if someone thinks Trump is dangerous, they should be able to say so; Trump supporters would then be free to respond. Civil discourse does not mean we shy away from responses we don’t want to hear – it is precisely the opposite: we must listen to opinions we may not enjoy hearing, and respond to them in a civilized manner.

  8. I think that the points made in this article are wrong, and, frankly, unwarranted. Not all Trump supporters are despicable, racist, sexist people. In fact, my mother is a Trump supporter (and, by the way, she is Mexican and Filipino, not white) and she supports his policies, but she doesn’t have the same morals as him. Also, the article says that we are not obligated to give Trump supporters a voice. I’d like to remind everyone of the fact that we live in America, where our first amendment right is freedom of speech. Everyone should be given the basic human right to speak their mind.

  9. David Riemenschneider | October 20, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Reply

    Thank you for publishing this thought-provoking and stimulating opinion piece. Walking through the halls today, it was so exciting to hear students and teachers alike engaged in responsive discussion to this article.

    I want to commend the author for the perspective she shares, especially in the last paragraph. In this election season as a whole, we have witnessed our prospective leaders behave in ways that are entirely out of line with the exceptional standards suggested in Rabbi Heschel’s writings.

    In my seventh year at the school, I am more proud than ever to teach towards Rabbi Heschel’s ideal for a moral and Godly life, and I am equally proud that we expect our students, faculty, staff, and administration to demonstrate those values in our halls, classrooms, and hallways. While it is perhaps easier to identify the ways in with Trump has behaved outside of the norms we’d expect of each other at Heschel, Clinton is not without faults, nor were the multitude of Republican and Democratic nominees in the primary season. The culture of name-calling and blaming of others for ills we sense in society will not end on November 8, either, and I would compel us to continue to shout Rabbi Heschel’s values from the hilltops through the months and years to come.

    To the article’s other points, I will admit fully that I see Trump’s behavior as exceptional; I am appalled at the idea of a person with his behavior representing me or our country on the world stage. However, I would caution against suggesting that Trump supporters and voters do so out of support for his behavior; supporting a political candidate is a tenuous and challenging struggle for a future or current voter, as one must take into account a wealth of values, perspectives, and platform initiatives. In this political climate, the situation is more difficult than ever, as “person” and “platform” are remarkably difficult to separate.

    In general, however, the greatest thing we can do as a school community is simple – listen to each other with sympathetic and understanding ears. Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, and third-party candidate supporters alike: listen to your schoolmates with the expectation that they want the same thing that you do – the best future possible for our country.

  10. While I feel that Trump supporters at Heschel are indeed an outspoken minority, I do not agree that the Town Hall discussion served to amplify Trump’s platform or people’s opinions. The point of pluralism is to bring together a multitude of opinions, and learn more about each other and learn to respect people who may have opinions we disagree with. The Town Hall we had was to discuss ways we could do better in our discussions and thoughts about politics, rather than generalizing about all Trump supporters as racist, sexist people, which is generally how people interpret them (which is unfair to those who support Trump who are not racist and sexist. I have met Trump supporters who are respectful of the other side and their opinions, and are quite the opposite of racist and sexist). I recall strongly one student saying that just because they identify as a Republican does not mean they support Trump, or, just because they support Trump, does not mean that they support every word that comes out of his mouth.

    Rabbi Heschel, an outspoken supporter for civil rights, might not have been happy with the way American politics looks right now, but we should not be interpreting his words in a way that is meant to put down a group of people. Twisting (although that is a strong word to use for the language in this opinion piece) Heschel’s words to put down a group of people is, in fact, going against the basic beliefs the Democratic Party holds. When we discuss politics in a politically diverse environment, we should discuss them in a manner that allows for respect shown by both sides for their counterparts: that is what Rabbi Heschel would be proud of, and that is the standard to which a pluralistic school should hold itself.

  11. Deena Danishefsky | October 20, 2016 at 10:58 pm | Reply

    I think that the only way we can truly learn from Rabbi Heschel (and benefit from having him as our school’s namesake) is by applying and integrating his ethics and ideals into our own lives. Failing to do so would ultimately be synonymous with completely rejecting his values. For example (and I’m cognizant of the fact that this quotation can easily be deemed overused and trite, so for that I apologize), it is impossible to benefit from Rabbi Heschel’s ideals of living in a constant state of radical amazement if we do not attempt to do so. Radical amazement simply deteriorates into meaningless words on a paper, rather than something that can inspire us to become better people. Thus, I believe that it is antithetical and actually quite harmful to say that we should not implement his teachings in our everyday lives. I believe that we should do the exact opposite; if we are truly devoted (or attempting to devote ourselves) to Rabbi Heschel’s ethics (which I believe articulate standards to morality as a whole), then we should strive to apply his teachings everywhere we can, including this election.

  12. I commend the author on a well-written and well-thought-out piece. In principle, I agree with its sentiments. Having said that, something about it has bothered me since reading it a few hours ago. It has taken me all day to pinpoint what it is that I am struggling with, but I finally have. Aside from obvious issues with the first Amendment, my qualm is that the entire argument is predicated on two statements that I believe are misguided. First, the article asserts that, “our tradition as well as our school’s namesake requires us to stand up to immorality.” Objectively, this is true- just not in the way it is interpreted here. Morality, and conversely immorality, is individual. There is no universal moral compass. One may have an individual right, perhaps even a duty, to stand up to immorality. However, silencing those who hold a different set of moral values is not standing up for what one believes in; it is imposing one’s own values on others, and it is encroaching on other people’s right to form their own opinions.
    Second, the article quotes, “The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” then states that this quotation is the foundation for our school. However, ask any Heschel student, parent, or faculty member what the bedrock of our school is and, clichéd as it may be, the answer is pluralism. To paraphrase Roanna Shorofsky, “In order for everyone to be comfortable all of the time, everyone must be uncomfortable some of the time.” I feel uncomfortable with much of what Donald Trump has said, but I would feel much more uncomfortable censoring it. Whether we like it or not, people have legitimate reasons for supporting Trump. Whether those reasons are, as Max (class of 2020) said, based on Israel, or based on any other value that anyone holds, it is essential to not label all talk regarding Donald Trump as dangerous. He has tapped into something very real. As Voltaire is alleged to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”. Heschel is not, first and foremost, a place to impose morals. Heschel is a place to foster mature conversation. Like Voltaire, whether or not I agree with the positions being argued in political town halls I will continue to fight for everyone’s right to voice them. The real danger is not in allowing supporters of a candidate you disagree with to voice their opinions. The real danger is in not allowing it. This time you are with the majority of the school that opposes the morals of the Republican Nominee. Next time it very well could be your values in the minority. ¬¬

  13. Kevin Chaikelson | October 21, 2016 at 10:07 am | Reply

    Everyone who says we should not judge Trump’s political worthiness based on his personal morals is absolutely correct. Politics as we know it makes it impossible to elect anyone who is morally sound; by virtue of their profession, politicians unfailingly become dishonest, manipulative and/or controversial. However, I am not only bringing Trump’s personal morals into question. The policies Trump has stated he will implement are unjust as well, and I believe it is to these policies that the article alludes. Not only Trump personally but Trump’s policies are discriminatory, particularly his actions on immigration and his horrendous proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country.

    Modern politics has become – much to my chagrin – more about personal attacks than logical rhetoric. But when a candidate is both morally atrocious as a person AND in his policies, it is inexcusable to support him. This article is not attacking Trump supporters, nor is it saying they should not speak their minds. It is merely saying that non-Trump supporters should not ENCOURAGE pro-Trump voices, though they may make themselves heard regardless.

  14. I totally agree that Donald Trump’s values are totally unacceptable for any school, specifically our school because of our namesake. If any student in our school had said anything remotely similar to the hate speech that Trump spews out, s/he would be sent to Ariela’s office in a heartbeat. S/he might even be suspended or, depending on the severity of the case, expelled. As an institution, we should not be promoting this type of behavior. I totally understand what this article is saying. We could say “a school cannot delegitimize a candidate that some students and parents may support.” However, if Donald Trump were not a politician, this whole conversation would not be happening. The school would jump to criticize him openly, maybe even at a town hall like the one where this all started.

  15. Let me be very clear: I am not a Trump supporter. In fact, I think Mr. Trump is a vile man whose beliefs are truly despicable. However, what I dislike more than Donald Trump’s positions is stifling Donald Trump’s supporters. While some may argue that it is a perversion of Rabbi Heschel’s values to let Trump supporters speak, I would argue that it is not only a perversion of America’s values, but also a disservice to ourselves not to let them speak.
    In this country, we are blessed with freedoms that many others would quite literally die for. The right to freedom of expression in the First Amendment is paramount among these values and is essential to a working democracy. In many other countries, these freedoms are not present and the result is often horrible plutocratic rule, in which dissenters are “shushed” and even detained.
    I think that it is essential that this school not only accept this right, but also embrace it. Without complete freedom of thought, there would never be any progress. Political discussions would not only achieve nothing, but would also be quite boring. Embracing this value goes far beyond the Town Hall discussion. In order for this to be encompassing, we all have to pledge not to marginalize anyone’s opinion. Whether that be in socially marginalizing the other side, or refusing to have civil discourse because the other side is “racist”. And yes, this goes for both sides.
    But beyond the First Amendment, any marginalization based on political beliefs is a disservice to all of us. Although Heschel may be a warm and fuzzy environment, the fact of the matter is that the world isn’t like that. That is not to say that the school should not be warm and fuzzy. Rather, it means that we cannot live with the delusion that life will never make us uncomfortable. Throughout our lives, all of us are going to encounter beliefs that we find disgusting and vile. However, the response is not to shush the other side, but to (figuratively) fight back. Not to would be antithetical to Rabbi Heschel’s belief that “We stand for what we utter.”
    Anti-Trump people have every right to be disgusted with Trump, his beliefs and policies. Moreover, they have every right to voice their own opinions without being belittled or shushed. However, the same goes for Trump people. If we as a community don’t embrace this, then we lose the right to learn under Heschel’s name. For Rabbi Heschel, the only correct political discourse was that of action, not of silence.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*