After the Election, a Time to Heal

For me, elections are always highly emotional moments. My formative years were spent fighting for democracy in Argentina, so the act of voting, natural for many, is for me one accompanied by deep gratitude. Voting is something that I don’t, and never will, take for granted.

Whatever our political preferences, the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews today are blessed to live in a place and a time where our voice counts; a time of freedom that, albeit imperfect, is more pervasive that in any other period of human history. The fact that “we the people” elect our leaders sounds to us like such a simple proposition, that sometimes we forget how revolutionary it is, how new, how fragile. So my first feelings today – unrelated to the election results – are of gratitude to past generations that bequeathed us our freedom, our democracy and a country that still offers boundless opportunity; gratitude for a civic exercise that, despite the prophets of doom, transpired in peace and calm.

But as grateful as I am, I’m not naïve. These elections showed how divided we are, how much we live in different realities, and how little connection there is between our echo chambers. They showed how much we uncritically accept dogmas and how vulnerable we are to clickbait and propaganda. They demonstrated that we lack the intellectual curiosity and the empathy to learn from and about the other.

In these times of labeling and demonization, we fail to realize how complex people are and how they defy stereotypes.

Think about this:

• In Florida, conservative voters approved a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, while in Montana, they voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
• On the other side progressives voted enthusiastically for a moderate candidate; radical atheists voted for one of most religious men to ever run for office, who in turn supports gay marriage and reproductive rights.

Nothing is simple, and when we reduce people to caricatures, we lose the richness and the texture that makes them truly human.

Regardless of whom we voted for, we all won and we all lost. Those that wanted a reaffirmation, didn’t get it; those that wanted a massive repudiation, didn’t get it either. But we all won, because we exercised our right in peace, because democracy did its work, and because we reaffirmed the ideals that keep moving this great country towards a “more perfect union.”

Whatever our ideological differences, every change offers an opportunity for a reset: for mending ties, for starting anew, for stopping the corrosiveness of our discourse, and lowering the temperature of our disagreements. It’s a moment to take stock and re-center ourselves, re-evaluate our ideas and our actions, and commit to be better.

It is clear that our country is in need of healing, and it’s become abundantly evident that our own Jewish community is as fractured and dislocated as the rest of the country. We, as funders and leaders, have a critical role to play in rebuilding the fabric of our community. I’m proud of how JFN has managed to remain a place of respect and civility, a model for the type of conversations we should be having both within and beyond the Jewish community. Our network is incredibly diverse, and we have managed to have difficult conversations in which different points of view are heard, in which the humanity of the other is respected above everything else. The respect and menschlikeit of our members made it possible.

I believe that now, more than ever, we, as funders and leaders, need to be beacons of hope, examples of responsibility, and purveyors of unity. Our role in healing can’t be overstated: People are looking to us for inspiration and example, and this is our moment to step up. For those who won, this is not the moment for triumphalism and vindictiveness; for those who lost, it’s not the time for destructive bitterness. For everybody, it should be a time of working together on the enormous challenges ahead, from the ongoing impact of Covid, to the growing threat of antisemitism in all its forms, to Israel’s challenges and opportunities.

To cap off the roller coaster of emotions of this week, on Saturday we learned, with enormous sadness, of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, an inspiration to us all. He once said: “The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in somebody that is not in my image, who language, faith, ideas are different on min? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing Him to remake me in His.” This is exactly the test we face today.

And finally, in a phrase that seems to capture the essence of philanthropy, he said: “Do a search-and-replace operation on the text of your mind. Wherever you encounter the word ‘self,’ substitute the word ‘other.’ Instead of self-help, other-help. Instead of self-esteem, other-esteem. We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.”

Let’s do it, and let’s not face any of this alone.