June 1, 2023 •
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Star Ledger Guest Columnist — Opinion by Rabbi Clifford M. Kulwin

My candidate did not win.  And since you live in New Jersey, odds are pretty good that your candidate did not win, either.  The result was one essentially nobody expected, but pretty definitive nonetheless.  There are things going on this country we have yet to grasp.

President-Elect Trump did not win because of intricate political strategy, ideological purity, or personal charisma. And he did not win because he was a Republican.  He won because, whether through insight or luck, he correctly perceived that a great many in our nation feel like they have been left behind, that they are not cared about.  And they are angry.

Yes, his supporters included David Duke and others whom Secretary Clinton correctly (if inelegantly) called “deplorables.”  But they are not the ones who won him the election.  As Mr. Trump himself said last night, what pushed him over the top was the support of people like the family of my friend, Mary Beth, of whom I spoke on Rosh Hashanah.   The many who have seen jobs disappear, lives change, opportunities flee.  They feel they have been left behind.  Mr. Trump convinced them, galvanized them, that he could make things different.

Are these core supporters of his genuinely the “left behind?”  Have they really lost out while others have benefitted?  It doesn’t matter.   What matters is that’s the way they feel.  That feeling dictated their vote.

On Rosh Hashanah I spoke of empathy; the need to be able to see the world through another’s eyes, the ability to feel what the other actually feels.  This morning it is clearer than ever that as a national family, we are in desperate need of empathy.  As a congregation, we will continue our work of service with and learning about the diverse communities in our own area to deepen our understanding of those with whom we live and, at least, begin to see the world through their eyes.

And I hope and pray that America takes this to heart as well.  We will learn much in the days ahead about how youth, minorities and new citizens voted, about logistical challenges at polling places, about turnout in general.

But, to me at least, the key lesson this morning is much, much larger.  The unexpected comes when we do not fully understand one another.  And if we do not fully understand one another, the inescapable conclusion is that we do not fully care for one another, and are thus incapable of the work to make America what it should be for every citizen.  I write these words this morning not as a rabbi dabbling in political analysis.  I write these words as a rabbi concerned about a society in which so many feel that they are not cared about, a subject securely within my wheelhouse.

What comes next?  We shall see.  I fervently hope Mr. Trump governs with a restraint, reflection and (forgive me) maturity not always present in his campaign.  He clearly has the power to move large numbers of people.  If he so chooses, he can be a force for what all consider good, not only those who voted for him.

But that’s now up to him.  That’s his job, and as a loyal American and a Jew, I have mine.  To continue to be a responsible citizen, obeying the law, paying taxes, casting informed votes at election time.  But just as important, and just as Jewish and as American, is to know all my fellow citizens, to do my best to understand what keeps them up at night, to feel their pain, fears and concerns.  To have empathy for them, and to take that empathy with me into the voting booth.

As Langston Hughes wrote, “Let America Be America Again.”  A country where all truly care about one another makes good decisions.  A country where all truly care about one another knows what to do.  May we be such a country, and may God bless the United States of America. Rabbi Kulwin

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