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Trump is speaking at AIPAC. How should Jews respond? (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) America finds itself in a very difficult time. We have to do something.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump stands between his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, left, and his son Eric as he speaks about the results of the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections, during a news conference held at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida on March 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 17, 2016.

(RNS) Donald Trump is slated to speak at the AIPAC Policy Conference next week.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, works to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel and combines political, ethnic and religious constituencies.

All the 2016 presidential candidates were invited to speak. But, for many of the rabbis who will be attending, Trump’s appearance poses political, moral and even spiritual quandaries.

It is quite simple: Trump’s hateful rhetoric is abhorrent to a great many rabbis, for a variety of reasons. In particular, the Reform movement has eloquently spoken out about Trump.

So, what should AIPAC-supporting rabbis “do”? Their responses run the gamut of political and ideological expression. And each of those responses has an interesting Jewish pedigree.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump stands between his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, left, and his son Eric as he speaks about the results of the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections, during a news conference held at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida on March 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 17, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands between campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, left, and son Eric Trump as he speaks about the results of the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections, during a news conference at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on March 17, 2016.


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The first approach is what I would call the “Hoffman-Rubin method” — as in Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the founders of the 1960s Yippies, entrepreneurs of dramatic approaches to social issues.

The “Hoffman-Rubinists” advocate either:

  • Boycotting the AIPAC conference entirely
  • Staging a loud, public walkout on Trump’s speech
  • Standing up and turning their backs on Trump as he is speaking
  • Playing up the calendar coincidence between the Jewish festival of Purim and the AIPAC conference, by branding Trump as Haman, the despotic, genocidal villain of the biblical Book of Esther, and even waving groggers (noise makers) when he speaks.

Because the AIPAC conference is arguably the most well-attended “Jewish” gathering of any given year (approximately 20,000 people — of whom a respectable number are not, in fact, Jewish), there are major concerns that Trump’s appearance reflects poorly on both Jews and Israel.


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I hope there will be no aggressive responses to Trump’s appearance. Such actions would violate AIPAC’s hospitality, guarantee that the protesters will be forcibly ejected from the hall and give Trump extra ammunition. After all, Trump is someone who has no qualms speaking crudely about women, Mexicans, Muslims, the handicapped and immigrants; does anyone really want to add “rabbis” to his verbal hit list?

The second approach is what I would call the “Esther-Mordecai method,” which is appropriate because of the connection to the holiday of Purim.

The Jew Mordecai relished his relationship with the Persian court, going so far as to tell Queen Esther that Providence had put her in the palace precisely so she could save her people from destruction at the hands of Haman.

Some rabbis say Jews have to face the political facts. In all likelihood, Trump will become the Republican nominee for president. He could beat Hillary Clinton and become the next president of the United States.

Therefore, Jews in general, and AIPAC in particular, must cultivate a good working relationship with him, as it would any potential White House occupant.

In some ways, the true Jewish archetype of this approach is the shtadlan, who in medieval Europe was the official intercessor for the Jews with the authorities. He would work as a “lobbyist,” negotiating for the safety of the Jews.

Implicit in this dynamic is the notion that the Jews are always vulnerable; they need friends in high places; relationships with power must always be negotiated afresh, lest Jewish vulnerabilities be exposed.

The third approach is what I would call the “Abraham Joshua Heschel approach.”


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This is the approach that I, and many of my colleagues, am taking.

We have been urging rabbis to simply not attend the Trump speech and let our absence be felt and noted.

Yes, AIPAC must be hospitable to Trump, but that does not mean AIPAC participants are hospitable to the candidate’s ideas and candidacy.

Why Abraham Joshua Heschel?

Heschel, the great theologian and social activist, was engaged with many mainstream Jewish organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. Even when he disagreed with them, he never walked away from any of them. He stuck by them and with them, speaking truth to power.

There is a second reason why we would call this the “Heschel approach.”

When Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he quipped that he was “praying with his feet.” His most sacred principles compelled him to march.

The rabbis who absent themselves from Trump’s speech will pray with their feet.

America finds itself in a very difficult time. We have to do something.

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality. Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality. Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich

A story: A righteous man came to the wicked city of Sodom and pleaded with the people to change their ways. No one listened. Finally, he sat in the middle of the city and simply screamed.

Someone asked him: “Do you think that will change anyone?”

“No,” he said. “But at least they will not change me.”

Sometimes, you just have to scream — even silently.

(Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla. He writes the Martini Judaism blog for RNS)