What’s Going On: A Conversation About Donald Trump’s Reception at AIPAC

by Rabbi Shoshanah Conover


March 22, 2016

Dear Shoshanah,

So much is disturbing me lately, rousing me from whatever notion I possess of comfort and ease. This is especially true during the present political season where campaigns for the presidency of the United States are bringing out, what I consider to be the worst in human relations. But when I woke up (from a night of relative comfort and ease) and began reading about AIPAC’s overwhelmingly positive response to Donald Trump’s presence among them, I wanted to go get right back in bed. “No,” screamed the little boy in me who was taught the world would one day be free of prejudice and racism. “No,” screamed the young seminarian in me who was taught “justice” always sways the future. “No,” screamed the grown man in me who has preached for twenty-five years that God’s love trumps all hatred, no matter how powerful (or rich).

Along with these sentiments, is the feeling of common ground I have always felt with my brothers and sisters from the Jewish community. As a people whose personality has been hammered on the anvil of suffering, it was clearly evident that the Hebrews flight to freedom from Egypt, was similar to the African American flight out of slavery and into emancipation. Growing up in an African American Baptist church, I heard so many sermons on Moses the Liberator, Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet (who saw the day when Israelites would return from exile). An immediate, existential affinity became permanently embedded in my spirit and psyche regarding the parallel histories and stories of Blacks and Jews. Such a feeling was so deeply engrained in me that in the late 1980’s Rabbi Mel Glaser of The Jewish Center in Princeton had the great idea for our houses of worship gathering together. I was pastor of First Baptist Church of Princeton. We jointly participated in a play, “The Dybbuk of Harlem.” I preached in the synagogue and he preached in the church. More recently, the church I serve Second Baptist Church of Evanston where the congregation has enjoyed a long relationship with Beth Emet Synagogue of Evanston. We are developing a relationship with the historic Temple Sholom of Chicago (where you serve as a rabbi) and our congregations will be working on addressing social justice issues related to the racism in the city. One week ago, I was sitting on a panel of the Chicago Board of Rabbis with you, to discuss the relationship between Blacks and Jews.

Now, admittedly I know there are some black clergy who are also supporting Donald Trump. In addition I suppose there are even a few blacks more than Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas (not sure about Judge Thomas) who are probably supporting him too. But a convention hall, filled with blacks, publicly throwing their support behind Trump? I do not believe that will happen.

And I woke up this morning to read that AIPAC was giving Donald Trump standing ovations as he tore into the Obama administration. This same Trump who wants to build a wall to keep out “the Mexicans” that he calls rapists. This same Trump who wants to kick out all the immigrants in our country. This same Trump who is so anti-Islam that he wants to stop Muslims from entering the country. This same Trump who has made the most misogynistic remarks of any political candidate, ever. He is the one many of my Jewish friends were applauding yesterday. He stands for every single thing that supports groups like the KKK (anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-African American).

Something has happened. I can’t go back to sleep. The comfort and ease will not come soon. Rabbi Shoshanah Conover, my friend, in the words of one of our significant social commentators of yester year, “What’s Going On?”

Pastor Michael Nabors

Second Baptist Church
Evanston, Illinois

March 23, 2016

Dear Michael,

When it was announced weeks ago that Donald Trump would speak at AIPAC, I was not surprised, nor particularly alarmed. The mission of AIPAC “is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” To that end, in presidential election years, AIPAC invites all major political candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties to address their crowds in plenary sessions. I had the misfortune to attend one such plenary session four years ago. I have not returned. And let me be clear, as we both know, this is not a Republican/Democrat issue.

What has alarmed, discomfited and deeply disturbed me is not the invitation by AIPAC to Donald Trump, it is the shameful fact that Jews packed the auditorium to listen… and then to cheer. I expected the number of boycotters and protesters of the speech to vastly outweigh those in attendance. I am proud that Rabbi Edwin Goldberg was among those who boycotted the speech. Naively, I imagined that Mr. Trump would address a largely empty room. That I misjudged my fellow Jews so drastically causes me to ask: “Who are we?”

You may know from some of your Jewish friends that today is a minor fast day for the Jewish people called Ta’anit Esther. It serves as a reminder that our strength lies not in aligning ourselves with powerful people, but the power of our inner convictions. You see, tonight, we will read from the Scroll of Esther as we celebrate a holiday called Purim. In it, a Jewish woman named Esther steals the heart of the gentile King of Persia. She “passes” for a member of the dominant culture, yet has a choice to make when she learns that an advisor of the king has a plot to exterminate the Jews. Esther’s cousin Mordechai warns her: “Do not think that in the king’s palace you shall escape” (Megilat Esther, 4:13). Understanding that her role in the palace was not to snuggle up with the powerful, but to speak truth to it, allowed her not only to save the Jews, but to save what makes Jews Jewish: our voice.

While I do not imply that Mr. Trump wants to exterminate the Jews, God forbid, I do find his abhorrent comments and proposed policies to be a call to action to all people of conscience to lift up our voices together. When the forerunner of the GOP’s presidential nomination repeatedly retweets messages from white supremacists, speaks words of hate against minorities in our country, and advocates xenophobic policies, it is time for us to speak up, as Albert Einstein wrote to cellist and activist Pablo Casals: “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.” Michael, I believe the united voices of our communities can stop this madness that puts our country in great peril.

So we must not sleep. Neither comfort nor ease is an option. Civic engagement is our call to action. Deepening the bonds across faith and difference is our mandate. We have the opportunity and obligation to enter the national conversation and infuse it with civility, deep respect, and conscience. We have substantial work to do, yet , in the words of another one of our significant social commentators, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Rabbi Shoshanah Conover

Temple Sholom of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois