Sen. Ben Cardin talks Israel, civility and more at Beth Tfiloh

From left: Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and Senator Ben Cardin
From left: Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and Senator Ben Cardin (Screenshot by Jesse Berman)

Standing behind a podium at Beth Tfiloh Congregation on the evening of Oct. 20, Sen. Ben Cardin said that one of the greatest challenges facing the United States is the level of civility in the country, or perhaps lack thereof.

“We’re now picking our friends by their political beliefs,” said Cardin, who grew up going to Beth Tfiloh. “We don’t listen to each other, … which puts our democracy at great risk.”

This was one of the topics Cardin covered with Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg during a public discussion titled, “Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg & Senator Benjamin Cardin: The State of the Union.” The event had both in-person and virtual audiences, and it was the first session in Beth Tfiloh’s program, The Centennial Fall Lecture Series: Conversations with Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg.

The talk touched on subjects such as Israel and Zionism, the growing wealth gap in the United States and the ongoing climate crisis, in addition to decline of civility in public discourse.

Opening the event, Wohlberg recounted how he has been active in politics since he was 16, when he followed news related to the late President John F. Kennedy’s political career.

“To me, politics is life,” Wohlberg said. “Immigration, integration, abortion, gender issues. This is not politics, this is also religion.”

Cardin noted how important Zionism was to his family when he was growing up.

“My parents grew up during the times where Jews were not welcomed anywhere, and they recognized what happened during World War II, and took great, great pride in the creation of the modern state of Israel, a democratic state,” Cardin said.

While calling the United States the greatest of countries, Cardin noted troubling signs on the horizon, specifically regarding the perception of the world’s Jewish communities and of Israel.

“Israel needs the unconditional support of the United States,” Cardin said. “There’s a significant rise of antisemitism, around the world and here in the United States. We need to have unity on the importance of having a Jewish state. And yet we find [those who] question the legitimacy of Israel.”

Cardin also saw problem’s in the nation’s “commitment to help others,” he said. While stating that the country is an extremely generous one, there nonetheless exists a growing wealth gap.

“When I was in college, the United States, among the industrial nations of the world, had the narrowest gap between the wealthy and the poor,” Cardin said. “Now among the industrial nations of the world, we have the widest gap between the wealthy and the poor.”

Cardin stressed the importance of paying attention to this disparity, and of remembering the principles of tikkun olam.

On climate change, Cardin said that, while positive steps are being taken, the world is already paying a price for inaction.

“So rabbi, I come here saying that we live in the greatest nation … but we have challenges that we have to deal with,” Cardin said. “And I really do think that my roots founded here, in the Jewish community of Baltimore, nurtured at Beth Tfiloh, has prepared me well for the challenges I face in the United States Senate. And I think it’s prepared our members as well … to make sure that we continue to burn from generation to generation.”

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