Synagogues Team Up for Election Series

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shaking hands after their first presidential debate, which was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shaking hands after their first presidential debate, which was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With Election Day closing in, Beth Am Synagogue, Beth Israel Congregation, Beth El Congregation and Chizuk Amuno Congregation have collaborated to put on a lecture series that explores the polarizing campaigns of presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton through a Jewish lens.

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, who leads the Beth Am Synagogue of more than 500 families, said the necessity to start such a program was two-fold. The idea was to develop a project that had particular relevance to the election and to work with a respected Jewish institution in Yeshivat Hadar, a liberal yeshiva in New York, to execute that.


“This election season has been so divisive,” Burg said, “and to be able to bring a sense of broader responsibility within the Jewish community is a great counterpoint to some of the rhetoric we have seen.”

Sponsored in part by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the four-part series, “Debate and Decision: Thinking About the Election with Jewish Values,” kicked off on Oct. 20 at Beth El with Rabbi Shai Held, a teacher at Mechon Hadar yeshiva, leading a discussion at Beth El. Rabbai Aviva Richman, a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar, presented a talk at Beth Am on Oct. 27, discussing whether it’s possible, wrong or imperative for political enemies to creative community harmony. There are two remaining sessions.

This has to do with the well-being of our community and how our votes fit into that narrative.

— Howard Libit, BJC executive director

Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC, said the sessions have less to do with Trump’s or Clinton’s candidacy but more with personal reflection and shared values among Jewish people.

“This has to do with the well-being of our community and how our votes fit into that narrative,” Libit said. “It gives us an opportunity to think more broadly and deeply about the election beyond what we see on TV or read in the newspaper.”

The final two discussions, at Beth Israel on Nov. 3 and Chizuk Amuno on Nov. 16, will sandwich Election Day on Nov. 8, giving ample time for the participating rabbis to digest the results.

Burg, Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Beth El Senior Rabbi Steve Schwartz, Chizuk Amuno Rabbi Ron Shulman and Dr. Neil Rubin of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University will dissect the results in a panel discussion, capping what figures to be an eventful election cycle.

“About a little more than a week after the election, we’ll be able to digest what we have learned from the election,” Libit said. “It’s not a postmortem on getting out to vote or which candidate did a better job, but I think a lot will center on the tone and the nature of how the election went.”

Outside of rabbinical assembly meetings and board of rabbi meetings, the four conservative synagogues don’t often team up for programs, Burg said. During his six years as rabbi at Beth Am, Burg said this is the first time he can recall the four Conservative synagogues coming together in such a capacity.

Moving forward, Burg hopes it’s a relationship that can continue to grow and blossom when fundamental political and social issues present themselves to the public.

“It’s exciting to be able to do something like this just because we haven’t really done much of anything like this before,” Burg said. “I think this is something that we can explore doing more of in the future.”

For more information about these free events, visit bit.ly/2eDsEng.

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