This past Tuesday, President Trump said the words that most members of the Jewish community were waiting to hear: “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
After sixty bomb threats at JCC’s across the country and the desecration of a historic cemetery in St. Louis, the Jewish community wanted to know what our Commander-in-Chief had to say on the subject. He went on to say, “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.”
The question is: why was it so important for so many of us to hear those words from President Trump? We all know that this presidential condemnation will do little to discourage the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts. Yet, many of us continued to call on the president to make such a statement.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I needed to hear those words because I see a correlation between the rise of Trump and the rise of anti-Semitism. I don’t believe that our president is an anti-Semite. However, I do believe that he has benefited from the support of anti-Semites and his ascendancy has encouraged those anti-Semites. The success of “their” candidate has given them permission to be more vocal and public in their other pursuits.
Now, I am not suggesting that President Trump is the cause of this anti-Semitism. I am not suggesting that anti-Semitism did not exist under previous presidents. I am simply saying that it is hard not to notice the rise in anti-Semitism since his candidacy and subsequent election.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read: “When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution (Ex 21:33-34).” Now, clearly, the purpose of the pit was not to harm a person or an animal. The purpose was, most likely, the construction of a building or a well. However, even with the best of intentions, there can be harm to others and the person responsible must make restitution.
I believe that Trump’s intention was to get elected. Along the way, though, he must have surely realized that some of his most enthusiastic supporters were also anti-Semites. Condemning them would not have been good for his electoral prospects. However, the election is now over. It is time to be the president and not a candidate. It is time to acknowledge that in the building of his campaign and presidency, he opened a pit. As a result, some have been harmed. The president’s statements this past Tuesday were a good start toward making restitution. However, I think there’s more work to be done.