This is the third in a series of diverse perspectives on the Jewish vote in the 2020 presidential elections.
In the mid-1990s, I went to Washington along with other young Jewish leaders from the United Jewish Appeal to lobby American leaders in support of Israel. Being the lone Black/white biracial person in the entire group, I was deeply concerned about my assignment because I was being sent to a southern senator with an unapologetically checkered history around race.
“Please,” I begged. “Send me to Senator Joe Biden. He always speaks in terms of ‘we’ when he talks about Americans. This other senator only speaks about ‘us’ and ‘them’ and I just don’t see it going well with him given that he sees me as a ‘them.’ And not just because I’m Jewish.”
What I was trying to say was that, based on all that I had heard and seen, I did not feel emotionally safe going to speak to my assigned senator because I did not believe that he would be respectful of me or treat me with dignity. How could I have felt safe or comfortable in a room with the man who led the charge against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a Federal holiday?
I also knew that, based on all that I had heard and seen, Sen. Biden would be respectful. And, so I knew that I could count on being welcomed, respected and safe for those few minutes in his office.
While I did not win that battle, I have often found myself thinking back to that moment in today’s America, which is more deeply divided into an “us” and “them” than at any point in my life.
And I’ve come to understand that I knew then what I know now: I feel genuinely safe with Joe Biden.
As a biracial and Jewish woman, I have rarely felt safe in America. Perpetually dealing with both racism and anti-Semitism is a way of life for me. With violent, anti-Semitic acts reaching an all-time high in 2019, we Jews are certainly feeling less safe after a few years with a president in power who calls white supremacists “very fine people” and recently told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
We see the physical manifestations of what it means to feel unsafe in seeing the armed guards now outside of our synagogues and Jewish spaces. In the metal gates being erected around Jewish buildings. In the rigorous security protocols designed to keep the threats out, which has often meant that I am not allowed in, for I, too, am considered by some to be a threat.
Anti-Semitism has always been ours to carry, but with the Jewish community becoming ever more beautifully diverse, racism is also something that is ours to carry. Just as it has impacted my family and me personally for the last 50 years, so too does it impact the many non-white Jews and trans-racial Jewish families that now make up our community. Our safety matters and it is undeniably under increased threat in today’s America.
And, so I cannot help but wonder what the way forward is in an America in which we are already feeling so much more unsafe.
To me, that answer lies in the first word of the Constitution: “We.”
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It is in our collective commitment as Jews to build an America that is rooted in “we,” and that does not further deepen the divisiveness of “us” and “them.”
It is in remaining true to what we mean when we speak of all of us being created B’Tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; and that we are doing the work to ensure that all Americans are treated with the same levels of care and respect.
But if we are to build that version of America, it is also in making sure that we seek to elect American leaders that can be true partners in this work because they, too, believe that America is for all of us. Leadership that speaks to “We, the People” and not only to those groups whom they selectively deem worthy of their respect and attention.
Joe Biden has always believed in and spoken of one America. An America where there is a safe space for all of us to be who we are. As Jews. As families. And as individuals. We can see ourselves in him because he sees himself in us.
Joe Biden calls this moment ‘a fight for the soul of America,’ which I have always experienced as an expression of tikkun olam.
And in Kamala Harris, we have a leader who understands deeply that it is our diversity that makes us strong. That much like a vibrant tapestry, America is built out of individuals and families who are, each in their own way, uniquely American. She, too, knows that America means “We, the People.” And she has worked for that all of her life.
Joe Biden calls this moment “a fight for the soul of America,” which I have always experienced as an expression of tikkun olam. As American Jews, isn’t it our current mandate of tikkun olam to participate in the work to heal our very broken country?
How lucky we are to have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our leaders and partners in the work of building an America where “We, the People” are more than just words. They are a way of American life in which all will be seen, respected, heard… and safe.
Marra B. Gad is a film and television producer and the author of “The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl,” winner of the 2020 Midwest Book Award for Autobiography/Memoir.