Beth Jacob congregation, Mendota Heights
We're visiting with Minnesotans from various religious traditions to get their views about the role of religion in politics. So far we've heard from religious groups across the political spectrum, all of them Christian. Today we hear from four members of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, a St. Paul suburb. Beth Jacob is a Conservative Jewish congregation.
Conservative Judaism does not mean the members are politically conservative. Indeed, the four Beth Jacob members we'll hear from all voted for John Kerry.
There are three major Judaic movements in this country. Conservative Jews are in the middle in terms of their adherence to Jewish practices.
The four members we'll hear from are Beth Jacob's rabbi, Morris Allen along with along Gila (ghee lah dray' son) Drazen, Holly Brod (long O as in road) Farber, and Earl Schwartz. They spoke with Minnesota Public Radio's Dan Olson.
Dan Olson: One of the baseline assumptions on reporting what is happening in this country is that there is a group of people in the electorate saying, 'look, the injection of religious values into public discourse is a good thing. It will restore values that we all agree on.' Rabbi Allen?
Rabbi Morris Allen: I grew up in the l960's, one of the classic images I hold from the '60's is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King walking hand in hand from Selma to Montgomery. That was a very moving issue. I grew up in a religious tradition that tells the story that rabbis left a convention to march in Selma, Alabama to share. So, it's not as if there hasn't been a presence of religion in American life before. And I think we do a disservice to suddenly believe that the religious voice of the right is something new in American politics. I think religion has played an important role in helping people shape political views. I think that sometime, unfortunately, those of us who have a different understanding of what that religious view should be on society have not been willing to engage and have abdicated and have left the field of religion to those who are now more willing to engage.
Holly Brod Farber: It does concern me as a person of faith that perhaps moving to some kind of litmus test of a belief in god becomes something that our society elevates above the principles of our constitution which call for us to separate religion and state. While as a person of faith my faith guides me strongly I would never look at a candidate and expect them to follow my faith traditions or any faith traditions. People who don't believe in god have as much more to say about morality in the public square as people who do.
Dan Olson: Gila, I'll frame the question to you in this way: An unmistakable theme in my ears running through the country now is that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles and we will be a better and stronger nation if we follow those principles?
Gila Drazen: A lot of what I heard especially after the 2000 election was that God had chosen this man to be president and that scared me more than almost anything I can articulate. I think that when religious morals and religious perspective on issues around the election can only be dictated by only a very small portion of the electorate that scares me when I'm told that the religious morals and beliefs that I hold are the wrong ones. And that I shouldn't apply those and that I should listen to what is good for me, that I am too young, or too female or too Jewish to know what I really need or what the country really needs. That is a really negative thing for the future of democracy for our country.
Dan Olson: But is it negative to talk now going forward into the future of this country about religious views or moral views, how would you prefer that it be framed, Earl?
Earl Schwartz: I think (president Abraham) Lincoln got the values question right at Gettysburg. He said that this American experiment is about a nation born in liberty but dedicated to the principle of equality. And he said, "and," he didn't say, "or."
And I think that the politics of the right are often driven by an option of either one or the other, and Lincoln said drop one and you've lost America. That's the real values question. If we are committed to both to liberty and to equality we must invest in the public life of the community as a whole in ways that test us but also bring out the potential for the society at large that I think we have not yet fully tapped.
Dan Olson: Going back to this notion that we are one nation, many would say under god, are you, people you know, feeling more a part of the nation because of your beliefs, or more separate from the nation because of your moral or religious beliefs, Rabbi Allen?
Rabbi Morris Allen: I value being raised in a tradition that is sensitive to those on the margin because I think that is what is part of the story of the Jewish people is. It is not accidental that the Hebrew scriptures repeats more times than any to remember the experience of the stranger, the heart of the stranger because we were once strangers. It is that sentence that is repeated more often in Hebrew scriptures in the five books of Moses than any other explanation for why we do something. That reminds us that those on the margins of society are our first concern.
Dan Olson: Holly, are you making peace with those who voted for another candidate, and are you still invested in the future of this country?
Holly Brod Farber: I actually feel great about the process. I for the first time was an election, and I watched democracy in action for my eight hour shift starting at 6 a. M. And it was just beautiful in motion, and also feeling in some sense because I'm Jewish and know what it feels like to be on the margins the slight sense of that empowerment of being a voice that is not the dominant voice but still being able to speak, and for that I say god bless America.
Dan Olson: Gila is the country headed in the right direction, are you confident, do you feel good about things?
Gila Drazen: I'm quite honestly worried. I worry that social security is going to run out before my generation retires. I worry that children that people my age have are not going to get a good education. I worry about a lot of things. And that includes the future of religious tolerance in this country, that includes morality in this country. I'm just worried.
Dan Olson: Earl Schwartz, does worry play a big role in your outlook for the country?
Earl Schwartz: I certainly share Gila's concerns in the short run, but I'm comforted to some extent by (Alexis de) Tocqueville's observation that if you're looking for a justification for democracy in the immediate outcomes of elections you will forever be disappointed. The power of democracy is in how it changes the people who participated, as Holly was saying a little earlier. In that respect to the extent that we can maintain a democracy we can be proud of we are heirs of a great and noble tradition.
|© 2013 Minnesota Public Radio. May be reproduced for educational use.|