Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Beware: Any references to Purim are only coincidental.
I was there when Donald Trump appeared at the AIPAC Policy Conference. It was another reality TV moment for a man who breathes the air of celebrity and ego. He’s a man whose feet never really walk where you and I walk every day. He climbs into a tricked-out Boeing 757 or a personal helicopter to transport himself and his entourage anywhere he wishes to go. When he arrives his courtiers greet and escort him to his place at the head of the table or the “x” on the stage where he makes lightning quick decisions with the authority of one who considers himself to be his best advisor.
At the AIPAC policy conference on Monday night, Trump entered the hall to an audience of over 18,000 Jews and Christians who support a strong alliance between America and Israel, the mission of AIPAC to which it has been true from its inception. I, for one, didn’t join the few colleagues who left the arena to study Torah rather than listen to Trump. Yes, Torah trumps Trump, but Torah also teaches that one must get eye-witness evidence before passing judgment (see commentary on Genesis 11). I wasn’t surprised by what Trump had to say but that’s only because his speech was more of the same. He began by telling us that he didn’t “come to pander” and then he went on to pander. It was entirely predictable and turned out to be a demonstration of what he learned about foreign policy in recent months. It sounded like “Middle East History 101: From WWII to the Present Because That’s All that Matters.”
He spoke from prepared words except for what must have been a few ad-libs he believed the audience would love to hear, including deep jabs at Hillary Clinton and President Obama. The crowd didn’t disappoint him. Thousands rose to cheer his jabs to the political left and right. But his speech was weak. It spoke directly to the crowd’s self-interested need to hear gratuitous platitudes about Israel and America including everything and anything that a Trump presidency might mean for Israel. Just as he has done before, he inspired the crowd like he was feeding hungry dogs their daily grub. A rabbinic colleague sitting next to me said Trump throws a lot of bones to the crowd. Another said there a lot of hungry dogs out there.
Trump ended his speech with a personal but gross attempt to claim “yichus”, a genealogical connection to the Jewish people, by claiming that his daughter was about to give birth to a “Jewish baby!” The crowd went wild. I’m not sure if they understood that he meant that a Jewish king and heir would soon be born.
My gravest disappointment came from a place I didn’t expect. I was shocked and disappointed by the crowd that rose too many times to catch his bones and applauded too many times to feed his ego. He must have the left the arena believing that wherever he goes everybody loves him. Everybody doesn’t.
There’s a scene in the movie “The American President” where Michael Douglas, who plays the president, says to his press secretary played by Michael Fox, that people lost in the desert (a metaphor for politically wandering) don’t eat the sand because they’re wild with thirst; they eat the sand because they no longer know the difference. If life can imitate art, then let’s take a cue from the movie and prevent ourselves from nourishing our own egos with bones Trump throws at us just because we’ve become delirious from a lack of leadership on Israel and the Middle East. We know the difference. Trump is an imposter who seeks the golden throne of the presidency. The problem is that it’s not golden; it’s rife with complex world challenges he knows little about. And, it’s not a throne; it’s an elected seat of enormous responsibility tied to a Constitution that was written to prevent forever a king from ruling against the will of the people and forsaking the liberty of a United States of America.
On Tuesday morning, Lillian Pinkus, president of AIPAC, spoke before the convention delegates to condemn Trump’s speech and to assail him for his message of partisanship and political animosity, which contradicted AIPAC’s policy that initially earned him an invitation to the convention. Nearly in tears, Pinkus defended and upheld the very serious work of AIPAC for a strong America and Israel, while criticizing Trump’s message and the despicable display of many in the crowd.
Okay, so I’m not voting for Trump. But before you might, you must answer for yourself the question why this man should go from celebrity apprentice to leader of the free world. America needs a president, not a king. Israel needs a friend not a benevolent pharaoh. This isn’t Purim and it shouldn’t become a nightmare from which we won’t soon awake.