American Jews have greeted the election of Donald Trump with mixed feelings. While some say they feel comforted by Trump’s pro-Israel and anti-Iran stances—and by the presence of his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law—many more say they see echoes of Germany, 1938. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, has received reports of more than 700 incidents in the past two weeks, including 60 instances of swastika vandalism. Last weekend, at the annual convention for the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist organization, the group’s president, Richard B. Spencer, greeted the audience with, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Many of the 200 attendees responded with Nazi salutes.
In response, donations to the Anti-Defamation League have reportedly gone up 50 percent in the two weeks since Election Day.
But many Jews are also aware that other groups—particularly immigrants, blacks, and Muslims—face even more dire threats: the SPLC received reports of 206 anti-immigration incidents and 151 against African-Americans. And so, approximately 200 Jews and other supporters showed up to Congregation Anshe Emet in Lakeview Tuesday night for an open meeting intended to affirm the community’s commitments to furthering social justice and rejecting bigotry.
“As Jews and Americans, we are an optimistic people,” said Judy Levey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which organized the gathering. “We are an irrepressible force for good.”
Most of the speakers, and probably most of the audience as well, was in the same position as Rabbi Megan GoldMarche of Metro Chicago Hillel, who said she could afford to be optimistic because she has never experienced any sort of discrimination or hate crime herself.
“I believe the arc of history bends toward justice,” she said, “but I’ve also been able to live as a female rabbi and a lesbian in an America that’s been very good to me. For many people, American has not been good to them.”
A few of the people who have had a harder time in America also came to speak at the meeting, including Nasir Blackwell of the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), who had spent his day handing out turkeys on the southwest side; Cindy Agustin, training and outreach coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and herself an undocumented immigrant who, under the Obama administration, has received protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; and Rabbi Capers Funnye of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Congregation in Marquette Park, who described the various forms of discrimination he experienced as a black man in the south in the 1960s.
Blackwell said that, since the election, he has been counseling family and friends to remain calm.
“The world will continue,” he said. “God put good people on earth. Don’t get angry. Speak in your best and most eloquent arguments with those who oppose you. You may plant the seed that will soften their heart.”
But, he said, the community would to do more than try to sway the opposition through conversation. “We need to double-down in our work on police accountability,” he said.
Agustin received a standing ovation after her speech, in which she described how frightened she and her family and friends—many of whom are also undocumented—have been since the election. But she also recounted the hope she felt in 2010 as she and other young people came out as undocumented, and the hope she felt speaking to her mother, who said she was not afraid.
“I have faith,” Agustin said, “in the resiliency of our community.”
At the end of the meeting, audience members were encouraged to speak with their neighbors about their feelings, and discuss ways that they, too, could, as Funnye put it, “get involved as a force for good.”