“Political Sabbath” aired on the stations of Vermont Public Radio on February 13, 2017.
The views expressed in “Political Sabbath” are entirely my own.
I’m a grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to the US between 1909 and 1921. I was born in mid-century suburbia, came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and the Second Wave of Feminism. I never thought I’d live to see state-sanctioned bigotry in my homeland.
Given the recent debate about acceptance and tolerance, religious and otherwise, I’ve been reminded of how the Nazis required Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing as emblems of their identity.
I briefly imagined wearing a yellow star of my own making with the Islamic image of a star and crescent moon embroidered in the center instead of “Juden,” the German word for Jew. While the idea held a certain appeal for its shock value, I was frankly too frightened to follow through. Swastikas and anti-Muslim graffiti have appeared right here in Vermont, and that’s worried me – in a way I never expected.
I’m not a religious person. As one of my children jokes, I’m Jew-ish, meaning I have a strong ethnic identity but very little use for ritual observance and even less for religious politics.
Nonetheless, I was briefly comforted that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisors, is an observant Jew who refrains from all work for the hours from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. But then Frank Bruni of the New York Times pointed out that when Kushner’s away, Steve Bannon’s at play.
Both the president’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries from entering the United States and his statement commemorating the Nazi Holocaust without mentioning the plight of Europe’s Jews, were crafted on a Friday, with fallout following on Saturday, presumably when Ivanka Trump, who converted, and her husband Jared Kushner were keeping the Sabbath.
I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, and I’m deeply offended by current US policies against Muslims – and any immigrants who are neither white nor Christian. So in addition to speaking out, I find myself falling back on my own non-Christian heritage by observing the Jewish Sabbath in the form of Friday night dinner.
It’s a tradition I grew up with: blessings over the candles, wine and challah in the dining room, a linen draped table with china and silver. We invariably ate roast chicken, which still ranks as one of my favorite, most comforting meals.
I find that lighting candles and breaking bread with friends on a Friday night is a good reminder of the religious freedom everyone in this country is constitutionally entitled to enjoy. What’s unexpected, is that Friday night dinner is now a political act.
This essay was first broadcast on the stations of Vermont Public Radio. You can listen to it here.
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