Local reaction: Bay Area Jewish leaders soothe distress after sleepless election night

The cartons of Peet’s coffee were a welcome sight for those gathered the morning after the election in the courtyard of the JCC of the East Bay in Berkeley. Donald Trump had just been elected president, causing a sleepless night for many in the solidly liberal crowd.

Rabbi Mark Bloom

JCC Executive Director Amy Tobin had spent the night of Nov. 8 watching the emotional reactions people were posting to social media, and by 6 a.m. decided to open the doors of the JCC as a community gathering place. She sent out an email invite and took to social media with her offer.  “I thought, we have to do something,” she told J. “So I posted to Facebook, get off your screens, we’re going to offer a physical place for you to get together and connect with each other.”

“I’m fully aware of my role, my need to be nonpartisan,” she said, as several dozen preschool parents and other JCC patrons mingled, noshed on croissants, drank coffee and expressed their feelings. “But I’m also an American citizen. We need to make sure people have places to go to connect with one another. Everyone has been feeling isolated and emotional. The JCC should be the antidote for that.”

Rabbi Joel Landau

Around the country, rabbis and Jewish leaders opened their doors and their hearts on Nov. 9 to people distraught by the election, and by what the results might portend for America and the Jewish community, even as they urged compassionate listening and the need for unity. In the Bay Area, several rabbis reported hearing from their congregants after the elections. Some said they would address the topic in their Shabbat sermons; several synagogues, including congregations Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, Kol Shofar in Tiburon and Etz Chaim in Palo Alto, opened their doors to members of the community who wanted to gather and share their concerns.

Rabbis Beth and Jonathan Singer, co-senior rabbis at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, posted on Facebook throughout election night. “Our congregation is politically diverse, with Trump supporters along with many others who are in grief and shock this morning,” Beth Singer told J. “Parents are asking us how to deal with very upset children. Congregants are reaching out.” She said Rabbi Sydney Mintz would be delivering the Friday night sermon on Nov. 11 encouraging people to “come together in Jewish unity.”

Amy Tobin

At the JCC in Berkeley, a few people were crying, including an African American woman, who was an aide to a senior who had come for an exercise class. According to Tobin, some expressed fears about an erosion of rights for women, people of color, Muslims and the LGBTQ community.

Steve Freedkin of Oakland came to the JCC to be with others. He dubbed the morning gathering a nonpartisan shiva, or mourning ritual. “We need a chance to grieve with others,” he added, “because 59 million Americans thought it was acceptable to vote for someone who based his campaign on making so many people enemies.”

Janet Ozzard, whose daughter attends the JCC’s aftercare program, said, “It was a rough election for a lot of people. Everyone felt beat up. The outcome left people with a lot of emotion we needed to deal with. The Jewish mission is to come together, talk and process.”

That was the objective at a Nov. 9 interfaith gathering at Rodef Sholom, organized by Rabbi Stacy Friedman to enable people to “sing, pray, and reconnect.”

“We got the sense that people really need to be together,” Friedman said early on Wednesday. “We invited the interfaith and broader Marin County community. The agenda is to give people an opportunity to come together, to take care of one another and to listen to one another.”

Across the bay, Rabbi Mark Bloom of Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham said he had been fielding many calls and emails from congregants.

Gathered in JCC East Bay courtyard Nov. 9 discussing election are (from left) Rachel Whittom, Candance Goodwin, Samantha Shokin, Ron Feldman and Steve Freedkin photo/dan pine

“Lots of people are in disbelief,” he said. “I’m changing my sermon for this Shabbat. I wrote it anticipating a Hillary victory, about the Torah portion, Abraham selling Sarah, and what that says about misogyny in the world. The congregation needs a message of comfort now, so I’m looking to the Haftarah, Isaiah speaking to the exiles who feel they’re never going to get back to the land. His message is that it will be OK. A message of comfort. There’s even the image of an eagle rising again in it, like America. We have to do our part, bring more love into the world.”

Rabbi Joel Landau of San Francisco’s Adath Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue, said he heard from many of his congregants who are “quite distraught,” but acknowledged that some indeed had voted for Trump. “Some of them were part of the group that is seriously angry at the media elite and at Washington; I don’t know how much it was a pro-Trump vote as an anti-establishment vote, and Hillary represents the establishment. A lot of people are fed up and want a change, and despite the despicable things Mr. Trump said, he represents that voice. Others in my congregation who voted for Trump passionately dislike Hillary Clinton.”

Landau himself said he couldn’t vote for either candidate. “As a devout Jew, I believe God has a plan,” he said. “So I’m not terribly disturbed by the outcome.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom reached out to the Rev. Este Gardner of nearby Good Shepherd Church to organize a gathering at the church on Wednesday night for people to share their thoughts and concerns. Creditor said he expected “a lot of shocked people trying to feel faith. Everybody’s crying. I’m getting lots of calls, lots of emails.”

He added that much can and should be learned from the election results.

“The progressive Jewish community is just one part of the Jewish community,” he said. “The growing conservative political bent of Orthodox Judaism and the Zionist community should not be brushed aside. It has become too easy to ignore or demonize those with whom we disagree. I’m guilty of that as well. Do we feel like a family anymore? I’m less interested in analysis than in the plan to reunite our family.”

At the JCC, Tobin felt gratified that she could pull together the gathering-cum-therapy session so quickly. “I just feel it’s our job,” she said. “That’s what a Jewish leader should do: make a physical space for people to be together and have a conversation.” n

J. editor Sue Fishkoff contributed to this report.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.