In just a few days, Americans will decide who will be our next president. One thing is clear: This has been the most divisive election of my lifetime. No matter who wins, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the president-elect and Congress to heal this campaign’s ugly wounds and reunite a deeply fractured nation. I hope and pray that they — and we — are up to the task.
I believe this starts with the recognition that, like it or not, we Americans are bound together by fate and circumstance. E pluribus unum — out of many, we are, indeed, called to be one. Our country’s very existence is predicated upon our learning to live together despite our real political differences.
Political columnist and NPR radio host Colin McEnroe spoke to this imperative in a recent podcast interview. He drew a strong contrast between so-called “reality TV” and actual life, noting: “Whether it’s ‘American Idol’ or ‘Survivor’ or ‘The Apprentice’ — what happens at the end is you get rid of somebody. And that’s a kind of tempting view, because in life, you can almost never get rid of anybody, right? The people in your life — the folks in your workplace, the people you like the least — they’re just not going anywhere. They will be there tomorrow when you come to work. The folks who most get on your nerves — they’re here to stay. So that’s why these shows are incredibly popular, because there’s this incredible fantasy — you can actually get rid of someone who’s a pain in the butt.”
This illusion perpetuated by reality television is the antithesis of my Jewish tradition, in which we are inextricably linked in covenantal community with friends and foes and everything in between. That’s a better model for the American people, too. If you’re Jewish — or really, as Colin McEnroe notes, if you’re human — you don’t always get your way, because in our communal lives, we’re not getting rid of anyone. Before, during, and especially, after this election, we need to be mindful of the delicate nature of the social fabric that unites us as a nation.
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My favorite teaching on this topic comes from Rabbi Harold Kushner’s marvelous book, When All You’ve Wanted Isn’t Enough. Kushner recounts how, just before Yom Kippur, he runs into an unaffiliated Jew who insists on sharing why he won’t be coming to services: “I tried to get involved in your synagogue but I found it to be full of hypocrites.” Rabbi Kushner is tempted to respond: “True. But there’s always room for one more.” But instead, he notes: “A synagogue that only admitted saints would be like a hospital that admitted only healthy people. It would be a lot easier to run, and a more pleasant place to be, but I’m not sure we’d be doing job we’re here to do.”
So, too, with our nation. It might be nicer, in some ways, if everyone shared our personal political views but it would diminish America. Our greatness is our diversity. No single political perspective gets it all right. We need each other. And there’s always room for one more — because like it or not, we’re not getting rid of anyone. We’re in it for the long haul, together.
Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.