‘Devastated’ Millennials Seeking A Way Forward


In the days since Donald Trump’s victory, many Jewish millennials, along with large numbers of other New Yorkers who backed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, are struggling to come to terms with the election results. On social media and in personal gatherings, many young Jews are expressing confusion, disbelief, anger and fear.

“We’re devastated,” said Rabbi Jon Leener, 28, who, with his wife, Faith Brigham Leener, run Base BKLYN, a Hillel-sponsored, Jewish center for the 20-something crowd in Williamsburg. The night after the election results, the couple hosted an event to “process what happened.”

“We never imagined ourselves as a political hub, but the community of young adults here is so passionate about politics,” Brigham Leener, 28, said in a telephone interview. For months, the Leener’s Shabbat table conversations centered around the election. “Now, people need a place to deal with a sense of utter shock and bewilderment,” she said. “There’s a feeling that if the president of the United States can say xenophobic, sexist and racist comments out loud, it gives the green light to the people who voted for him to say those things. The question is how do we move forward and find hope in a dark situation.”

While election polls conducted by GBA Strategies show that a sizable number of Orthodox Jews — 39 percent — voted for Trump, the majority — 56 percent — cast their ballots for Clinton. The former secretary of state was supported by the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jewish voters, with 76 percent of Reform Jews and 71 percent of Conservative Jews voting for her.

Among millennials, who on the whole swung towards Clinton, Jewish voters from across denominations expressed their shock and fear of the idea of a Trump administration.

Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, described the past week as a “scary time.”

“People are going through very different emotions,” Weiss-Greenberg, 33, told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “Ultimately, what scares me the most is what I’m seeing on the Internet when it comes to hate. As much as there’s a lot to say about this election, calling out bigotry, sexism, racism and hatred for what it is should be top priority.”

A handful of Jewish millennials who vocally supported the president-elect told The Jewish Week that they were not surprised by the election results.

A “processing session” for millennials at Base BKLYN the night after the election. Courtesy of Base BKLYN

“While I didn’t think he had a great chance, I wasn’t shocked,” said Ben Ellis, a 24-year-old Orthodox Jew from Chicago. He described many of Trump’s supporters in millennial Jewish circles as “silent voters” who didn’t “like being vocal about it.” He cast his vote for Trump because he felt he “couldn’t trust Hillary.”

“She was at best careless with national security, as well as extremely shady with her involvement of the Clinton Foundation as secretary of state,” he said.

Ari Teman, 34, CEO of a startup cyber security company, said that for him, Trump was an “easy choice.”

“We elected a liberal who’s outspoken in favor of gay marriage, universal access to health care, hired women into executive positions decades ahead of most others and has been a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people for decades,” he said of Trump.

When comparing Trump with Clinton, Teman, an atheist who grew up in an Orthodox family and now lives in the West Village, said he preferred the former. Calling Clinton “Qatar’s candidate,” he said he was uncomfortable with Clinton’s connections to “Wall Street, big pharma and insurance” as well as her support of the Iran nuclear agreement.

“She’s actively pushed for funding Iran and giving them nuclear capability despite them being clear their aim is to annihilate Israel,” he said. Most of his friends voted for Clinton, he said, and were “totally in shock” at Trump’s victory. “They called me stupid and insane for predicting his win.”

Lori Salkin, 34, a Modern Orthodox mother of three living in Philadelphia who voted for Trump, publicly defended her decision on Facebook.

“Dear stranger who decided to yell and scream at me after hearing who I voted for, we are all entitled to our opinion,” she wrote last week. “And she didn’t lose by one vote,” she added.

Though she declined to detail the political issues animating her vote, Salkin, a senior matchmaker for the Jewish dating site SawYouAtSinai, told The Jewish Week that “it is our job now, to channel our energies to rise up, in our unique and individual pursuits, and work to effect change.”

In her role as a matchmaker, she added that she does suggest dates “across party lines.”

Dustin David, a 23-year-old Reform Jew who lives in Jersey City, proudly wore a Trump kipa on election night. His friends — most of whom are Clinton supporters — tried several times to take it off his head, he said. He was also not surprised by Trump’s win.

“A lot of Democrats in this country are ‘blue dog’ Democrats, meaning they are conservative. The unions are for Hillary, but the union workers are real, hard-working Americans; they are for Trump.”

In the days since Trump’s win, hostility against minorities is on the rise, including several anti-Semitic incidents, according to several news reports and the Anti-Defamation League (see story). Responding to these and other incidents, college students around the country gathered in a state of shock to process the election’s outcome. Many took part in protest marches; others asked university officials to schedule events where students could reflect on what took place.

At Columbia University, Elle Wisnicki, a Jewish student leader and vocal Jew of color, described the scene: At 1 a.m., last Wednesday, after the election results were clear, more than 200 students gathered for a “scream session” in response to Trump’s victory.

“Hundreds of students went to the middle of campus to scream [and] let out their anger together,” said Wisnicki, a senior majoring in human rights. Panel discussions were held the day after the elections, “reflection spaces” created, and most midterms and classes were cancelled or rescheduled, she said.

“As a woman of color and a Jewish person, the election result is beyond scary,” she said in an email to The Jewish Week. “To know that Americans elected someone who outwardly puts down women and voices [a plan for the] deportation of Muslims and Mexicans makes me feel silenced by this United States. This rhetoric reminds me of 1930s Germany.”

On social media, references to Kristallnacht, the anniversary of which overlapped the election results, were frequent.

“On Kristallnacht every year, but particularly this year, we remember: Do not stay silent,” posted Ilana Gadish, the yoetzet halacha (advisor on family purity laws) at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

“Over 70 years ago today, thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and over 10,000 synagogues burned to the ground,” Rabbi Avram Mlotek, director of Base DWTN in lower Manhattan, posted on Facebook. “Walking my children to school on this gray day, I felt that heaviness acutely: the fear of the unknown, the sense of lostness in my own home, the taste of what hateful vitriolic rhetoric can bring about.”

Young members of the Jewish LGBTQ community were also quick to voice concerns.

“I worry about [the] mental health of trans queer youth particularly,” said Dasha Sominski, 23. “It is heartbreaking to know that all over the country, vulnerable youth will succumb to the pressure of what this presidency means to them — hatred and bigotry becoming acceptable.”

On Wednesday evening, Sominski marched with several friends from Union Square to Trump Tower. Many protesters chanted “Not my president.” (Sominski later clarified that she did not participate in this chant.) She called the protest “beautiful in a way.”

“Some cars honked in solidarity and drivers got out of their cars to encourage the protesters,” she said.

Simi Lichtman, 27, a social worker who works with survivors of sexual assault, said that she has been filled with anxiety since Trump was elected. “I’m deeply afraid for my LGBTQ friends, I’m deeply worried for all my clients who are survivors of sexual assault, I’m afraid for myself, since I’m a woman,” she wrote in an email. “Oh, and I’m really envious of my dog who is too stupid to know what’s going on.”

Naomi Dann, 24, the media program manager for Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish nonprofit that fights for Palestinian human rights and supports BDS as a tool for “peaceful resistance,” expressed her dismay to The Jewish Week over the phone.

“He is against everything we stand for — all the work that we do for equality and justice,” said Dann, who grew up Reform but says she has since found her “Jewish home” with JVP. As an organization they are “recalibrating,” she said. “We will continue to fight against racist policies and for Justice in Israel-Palestine,” she said. Though much of Trump’s foreign policy remains a “black box,” she finds talk of placing a moratorium on a two-state solution and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to be deeply concerning. “All of our work is amplified,” she said.

Elad Nehorai, 32, known largely by his online alias “Pop Chassid,” has been a vocal opponent of Trump since the beginning of his campaign. An Orthodox Jew with strong ties to the Chabad-Lubavitch community, he spent months trying to convince his Chabad neighbors and other Orthodox Jews to vote against Trump. (Chabad-Lubavitch Jews living in Crown Heights disproportionately voted for Trump, according to a vote breakdown of neighborhoods in New York.) His last blog post before the election, posted on Nov. 7, was titled “At War With My Neighbors Over the Orange Man.”

“I’ve spent entirely too much time looking for hope in changing Trumpniks’ views,” he wrote on Facebook the day after the election. “The effort now should and will be used to strengthening those who are afraid and want to make a difference. And no, this isn’t about reconciliation with those who brought us here. It’s about strengthening ourselves and preparing to fight for what’s right. This is the beginning. The beginning of connections and building and solidarity. Have hope.”

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