This past month our country greeted a new president. Some greeted him with joy, others with dismay. Thousands upon thousands poured into Washington for the events. The events included his being sworn in and a whole host of demonstrations culminating in the “Woman’s March” in Washington and in many other places around the country. For the most part the scene was positive. People of varying political views had a chance to express their opinions about our nation and society and for the most part it was done with dignity and seriousness. The differences of opinion are not trivial. They are the culmination of debates that have gone on, in some cases for many years and in some cases for generations. For some the president is saving us from dangers and restoring our pride. Others may view the very same actions as betraying our deepest ideals and values. This polarization is in itself a delicate and important matter. The results of half of the country having the opposite view from the other half may if, we are not careful, have far more profound results than the issues on which we are divided. I am pained to hear of people breaking up long standing friendships because the former friend is now a Republican or Democrat. Many years ago I had had the occasion to visit Yugoslavia as part of a rabbinic group sent by the UJA. It was the time of fighting between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. We asked them how the civil war started. Most of those we asked said something like “we all got along pretty well but when things got heated relationships and even families were torn apart. I have never forgotten those conversations. If we don’t turn down the heat. If we allow ourselves to descend into violence and mutual contempt we will lose everything. Jewish tradition and history contains many examples of serious differences which for the most part did not tear apart the fabric of communal life. On the rare occasions they did all suffered. All of us as Americans have the duty to advocate for our vision of how our country should be. We must use our freedom of speech to raise strong voices but at the same time keep from hating or trying to silence those with whom we disagree.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman