ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. (JTA) — The Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin teaches that “devarim shebalev einam devarim” — words not put out into the universe are irrelevant — and that we must speak our minds when we feel the imperative to do so. I want to be clear that the following does not speak for, or represent, the congregation where I serve as a senior rabbi. These are my own words within my heart that I am bringing out into the open.
During Rep. Ilhan Omar’s time in the House of Representatives, I have talked and worked with her, even though there are a number of topics where we don’t see eye to eye, especially around the U.S.-Israel relationship. While I’ve been grateful for those conversations, it’s not enough. We need a representative in Congress who both hears and listens to us — someone who is willing to absorb our concerns and advocate for us in Congress. Antone Melton-Meaux, Omar’s primary challenger, is that viable and necessary alternative.
I met Antone shortly after he launched his campaign in December. We quickly discovered that while I was in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Antone was across the street at the Union Theological Seminary earning his master’s degree in theology, Hebrew and preaching. Antone also served as a chaplain at The New Jewish Home with Rabbi Judy Edelstein.
Over the past several months, I’ve gotten to know Antone well. I have learned that he is a man of integrity who has a true desire to listen and is deeply engaged in our community. I’m inspired by Antone’s focus on being a results-driven leader who leans on pragmatism rather than ideology.
Rather than using this office to make a name for himself, I know that he wants to work for and serve the people of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District — the district where I live and work, where I’m raising my children.
Most compelling to me, though, is that Antone is someone who seeks to unite, not divide. That doesn’t mean that he regularly seeks the “middle”; it means that encoded in his spiritual DNA is a drive to bring people together.
As Antone has explained to me, he works with people who can’t stand to be in the same room with each other, listens to them and helps them reach a resolution together. This is a clarion bell of hope for our divided country — our divided community. We need consensus builders.
In no particular order, there are a number of issues that Antone has distinctly and vehemently spoken out about that resonate with my progressive Jewish core and where he differs from the incumbent.
Here in the Twin Cities, public safety reform has risen to the top of the pressing local (and national) agenda. Antone invokes the charge of Parashat Shoftim, which asks us to put judges and officers in place — but calls for “mishpat tzedek” — righteous and just enforcing of the law. He is calling to demilitarize the police, end qualified immunity for police officers, define a legal standard for excessive force, and replace community policing guidelines with guidelines intended to significantly reduce the risk of police violence and increase accountability.
These short-term goals lead to a longer-term goal of “tzedek tzedek tirdof,” true pursuit of justice, in the form of a Systemic Justice in Policing Act modeled on the Voting Rights Act, identifying and transforming police departments with histories of unconstitutional practices.
In the spirit of saving lives, Antone also commits to upholding constitutional rights while overtly pledging to reduce deaths from gun violence. In the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Avodah Zarah, the rabbis explicitly discuss to whom a person can sell and provide weapons, all based on background. Antone has pledged to pursue universal background checks, reinstate the bans on assault weapons ban and large-capacity ammunition magazines, and close legal loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to obtain firearms.
In a similar vein, Antone understands that the responsibility of society is to elevate vulnerable communities. He supports the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a bipartisan measure that importantly increases the funding earmarked specifically for sexual assault prevention and response services. Further, it expands tribal jurisdiction in these areas, as well as provides additional funding to tribal governments and law enforcement agencies to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
Vulnerability is intensified by poverty, and poverty often leads to housing instability. Working toward stable housing for the broader community is a Jewish tenet implicitly found in our Sukkot festival observance. Maimonides, a physician by training who cared for the health and well-being of humanity, taught that a tenant should always have the opportunity to find a place to live and never be abandoned to the street.
This is part of the reason that Antone’s early political experience appealed to me from the onset. As a young law student, the Congressional Black Caucus selected Antone as a fellow. On Capitol Hill, he worked with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Donna Brazile on housing and early education legislation. Based on his experience, he knows how critical it is to increase the stock of affordable housing and expand assistance to more families who need it, but also to expand the Housing Choice Voucher subsidy program, which helps renters pay for private housing in the neighborhood of their choosing. This encourages diversity in race, religion, socioeconomic status, station — in life. As the late senator Paul Wellstone put best, “We all do better when we all do better.”
And congressional leadership starts at home. I’m humbled and compelled by Antone’s mantra of “focused on the Fifth,” referring to his district. Intrinsic to the message of service in Judaism is the importance of addressing one’s own “district” before tackling others. The High Priest on Yom Kippur would effect atonement first for himself and his household, then the rest of his tribe, then all of the people Israel. It’s clear that Antone is going to focus on our district, which our current representative has failed to do.
I’m reassured by Antone’s commitment to serve and represent us. This is even more important as our district historically has one of the highest voter turnouts in the country, leading to an informed and engaged constituency. And though we want to see the results of Antone’s leadership and representation here at home, I admire Antone’s depth and understanding of foreign policy.
On an issue of significance to me as a Jew and Jewish leader, I am confident that Antone’s values are closer to my own than my current representative’s. We both recognize and value that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We both believe, to use his parlance, that “it is vital to the national interests of both Israel and the United States that our two countries continue to be collaborative allies.”
Antone categorically opposes, and commits to working against, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel and similar efforts that are counter to peace. This is because Antone – like so many of us – desires a two-state solution stemming from bilateral talks, with compromise, by Israel and the Palestinians together. And likewise, Antone opposes unilateral annexation, but does not believe in conditioning foreign aid to Israel. His goal, like mine, is to see an agreement fostering two states that, in his words, “incorporate the most critical values and objectives shared by both peoples, most importantly, the yearning for a safe and secure homeland.”
While I know that voting is a private affair and there is a tradition about staying far from government leadership (“v’al titvada l’rashut”), we surely need strong leadership — throughout the country, in Minnesota and in our district. So I’ll be voting for Antone.