Jews have a long and challenging history of relating to new leadership. The first such story begins early in the book of Exodus (Shemot).
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃
A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
The phrasing “did not know Joseph” was biblical foreshadowing, portending the slavery to come. We recall each year at Passover how badly that story turned out – with enslavement of hundreds of years.
With the inauguration of a new President, the well-practiced Jewish reaction is to ask, does he know us?
To our consolation, some say, yes, Donald Trump knows us! His daughter is Jewish and his son in law is Jewish. Trump has many Jewish business contacts and friends. Therefore, some will surmise, our safety is secured.
Others focus on another understanding. Does the new President know of the sensitivities and insecurities of the Jewish community? Many correlate alt-right anti-Semitism and the rising number of hate crimes to Donald Trump’s candidacy. They fear for the safety of the Jewish community.
Others joke about the need for a safe haven. I’ve heard lengthy conversations comparing the benefits of moving to countries like Canada, Australia and Costa Rica. These conversations reflect that Jews have a never-ending sense of insecurity. Our bags are ready to be packed and our passports have been renewed. We hold onto that fear even as the United States has proved to be our homeland and much more than a mere safe haven.
Before you begin packing up, consider other ways the President can know us. Can we be known to the new President as the people who advocate for the safety and security of all humanity? It is precisely because Jews were once slaves, and later exiles, and an oppressed people and sometimes refugees, that we must raise voices for justice and compassion for all people in peril.
We are the people who value moving from the narrowness of prejudice, oppression and violence to the expanse of affirming life, freedom and fairness for everyone. Make sure that the new President knows that about us. If the new leadership knows us at all, let the heirs of Joseph be known for our devotion to life. L'Chayim.
R’ Evan J. Krame