PITTSBURGH — The imminent presidential inauguration of Donald Trump has stirred anxieties in various racial and religious minority groups.
For the Jewish community, the tensions are unique because of mixed views on Trump’s rightward turn on America’s policy toward Israel, even as local Jews widely share revulsion over an outbreak of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in a post-election climate in which many fear that bigotry has been emboldened.
Recently, bomb threats have been phoned in to Jewish community centers in several cities, and a swastika was painted on the sign of a historic Cincinnati rabbinical school. Neo-Nazis had plans, postponed for now, to march through a Montana town. Various Muslims, Latinos and others have been targeted for attacks and vandalism around the country, according to law enforcement officials and groups tracking such crimes.
“I’m hearing a lot of anxiety,” said Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai, a synagogue in Squirrel Hill in the liberal Reform denomination. “Unlike the sense of expectancy we often have with the advent of a new administration, there’s a lot of worry about what this will mean.”
More than 70 percent of Jewish voters supported Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls, echoing their strongly pro-Democratic voting history. Yet a quarter of them supported Trump, and some are cheering his embrace of Israel’s right-wing Likud government, which is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank. Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, advocates the politically volatile move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Others in the U.S. Jewish community, however, question such moves on both moral and pragmatic grounds, saying they could only worsen long-term prospects of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians — even though many fault the latter group for failing even to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Trump plans to name his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is an Orthodox Jew, as a senior adviser, which some see as giving a strong voice in the Oval Office for Jewish concerns. Yet Trump also appointed as a top adviser Stephen Bannon, whose online news site has been seen as raising the profile of alt-right or white supremacist voices, many of which supported Trump. Some have criticized Trump for the tone he has set with harsh rhetoric targeting Muslims and Mexicans.
The mix of domestic and foreign issues has, like so much in the Trump era, scrambled the status quo.
“What a bizarre juxtaposition to have an ambassador, who is so one-sidedly pro-Israel, and on the other side you’ve got some kind of empowerment of the alt-right forces in this country,” said Marc Field, a Mt. Lebanon resident who has been active in various nonprofit organizations. ”It’s ironic, and it just speaks to a very unique constituency that president-Elect Trump has assembled.”
Field said he’s “encouraged that (Trump) will help defend Israel in the status quo,” but in the long run he said that status is untenable and needs to be moved toward a two-state solution. ”Whether or not the new Trump appointee will be able to move in that direction is unknown,” he said.
Local rabbis say they’ve tended to many anxious congregants in the weeks since the election, whether through sermons, midweek talks or off-hand conversations.
“What I find myself trying to do is help people deal with fear,” said Rabbi Mark Mahler of Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in Mount Lebanon. ”People are frightened.”
While he assumes most of his congregants voted Democratic, he said he honors every member’s vote as an ”American mitzvah,” using the Hebrew term for good deed.
“My repeated message, my overall takeaway from this election, is to deepen your faith in God. God will get you through,” he said.
He was heartened by a unity rally held by Mt. Lebanon community members in December in response to incidents such as local racist graffiti.
“Everyone felt it was healing, it was affirming,” he said.
Andy “Hirsh” Dlinn, who has long been active in Republican politics, supported Trump and the stances it is signaling toward Israel and the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel is so excited about Trump,” said Dlinn, of Squirrel Hill, who is Orthodox. And he said concerns that Trump has stoked anti-Semitism “make no sense,” noting that the president-elect’s daughter Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism, and she and Kushner are raising their children in the faith.
Rabbi Doris Dyen, a rabbi in the liberal Reconstructionist movement and spiritual leader of the small Makom HaLev group, which worships in various East End homes, said ”people are pretty uniformly apprehensive about the incoming administration.”
That’s “both because of the kinds of things that the president-elect has said himself and also the kinds of things the people he is trying to appoint to various offices have said and done in their careers,” she said.
Dyen, who is also active in interfaith efforts, visited a local mosque during one of the nights of Hanukkah in December in a show of support. Trump has spoken of a ban on Muslims entering the United States in response to attacks by terrorists claiming a mandate from Islam.
“We are also concerned about threats to other groups,” she said. “It’s not just threats to Jewish people.”
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Joshua Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said most Jews believed that either a Clinton or a Trump presidency would have been more pro-Israel than that of President Barack Obama. The Obama administration drew controversy in its final weeks by refusing to veto a United Nations Resolution against the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, followed by a speech by Secretary of State John Kerry criticizing Israel for imperiling hopes of a two-state solution.
“Like every presidential administration before the incoming one, we need to find a way to work with them,” he said.
While the rise in anti-Semitic incidences “is certainly disturbing, I hesitate to attribute that rise to any one particular factor,” he said.
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