A few weeks before the election, the Wesleyan Jewish Community, a proud Open Hillel, gathered in our sukkah to discuss the meaning of Jewish values. Students from Cardinals for Israel, J Street U, and Jewish Voice for Peace talked about the complexities that led us to develop our particular beliefs about politics and justice. Inside a literal open tent, we wrestled with the multiplicity of Jewish histories, legacies, and lessons for the present day. If there was one value that we could agree upon, it was the importance of supporting and promoting pluralism, open discussion, and debate.Then, the United States elected a president whose words and actions undermined these core values. Donald Trump ran on a platform of xenophobia and hatred. He threatened his critics and promised to restrict activists, journalists, and citizens from criticizing him.
Worse still, many Jewish communal institutions have failed to stand up for these core Jewish, democratic, and American values.
When Trump appointed Bannon, who has been denounced as anti-Semitic, the Jewish Federations of North America failed to speak out against this appointment. I thought of how I learned about tzedek through those same institutions. I wondered, if Judaism is about justice for all, how could my community fail to denounce a man for whom my friends – Jewish, Muslim, immigrant – were not worthy of respect?
However, I soon realized that this isn’t the only time leading Jewish institutions have failed to denounce politicians who attack our fundamental values. Indeed, some have chosen to actively partner with Trump and his allies. For instance, Hillel recently announced a $22 million partnership with major Trump ally (and far-right Israeli Minister) Naftali Bennett and his Mosaic United initiative. Through Mosaic United, he aims to combat “critical discourse” on Israel and promote “the Jewish foundations of the family unit” – a very particular and exclusionary vision of what Jewish families should look like and one that does not include me, a queer Jew.
Last week, Open Hillel’s rally and public art exhibit the day before the inauguration in D.C. showed me the creative core of resistance work and modeled what Jewish leadership could look like. Together, we called on Hillel International to end its partnership with Mosaic United and affirmed a commitment to pluralism and open discourse. And two days later, millions of women all over the country marched together for equality. The crowds were diverse and many of the signs – especially those that centered around women of color, queer, and trans women – reflected our shared value of a pluralistic resistance.As a community that supposedly cares about equality, diversity, civil rights, inclusion, and freedom of speech and expression, it is not acceptable to partner with Trump allies like Naftali Bennett and Mosaic United. Our Jewish communities must support all Jewish students –no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, or political views, especially at a time when Jewish students feel vulnerable.
In the weeks after the election, I felt deeply torn about what it would mean to be a Jew in Trump’s America. I thought of the neo-Nazis targeting me on social media for being proudly and openly Jewish. And then I thought of the Jewish institutions which I so deeply treasured acting in ways so incongruent with my understanding of Jewish values. I felt unmoored from the communities that I thought I knew and trusted. How could I (or any other Jew committed to open discourse and democratic values) trust institutions that silenced important conversations in one breath and failed to speak out against a candidate representing a racist and anti-Semitic movement in the next? In the most difficult moments, I wanted to renounce my Judaism. I wanted to protect myself from white supremacists who resent my existence, but I also wanted to protect myself from disappointment when the institutions I loved failed to act on my values.
But while I have been disappointed in Hillel International and other major Jewish institutions, I have been consistently inspired by the Jewish communities around me. Engaging with my friends and family at home reminds me why this work needs to be done. At Wesleyan, we create Jewish communal spaces where we can grapple with our existing world views. We try to inspire collective Jewish resistance against policies counter to our values, and – unlike Trump and Bennett – we demonstrate that plurality is a source of strength and inspiration, not fear. As an open community, we use our creativity and hope to build a Jewish community rooted in radical compassion. Under an administration that frames diversity as dangerous, fighting for campus pluralism – and institutional support for campus pluralism – is more important than ever.
We want to inaugurate a new and better future for our communities – a future in which our institutions foster pluralism and inclusivity, embrace free speech and difficult conversations, and create space for solidarity, hope, resistance, and the pursuit of justice.
In the days and weeks after the inauguration, I ask my Jewish communal institutions, will you pursue this future with us?
Anna Fox is a sophomore in the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University and campus outreach co-coordinator for Open Hillel.