Last Wednesday morning when we woke up Yadid, our 12-year-old, he asked for the results of the election. In response to hearing that Donald J. Trump was elected by the electoral college as our 45th president he said, ” Wake Me Up in Four Years”. At first I encouraged him that we need to open-minded to the president he might yet prove to be and at the same time ever vigilant to ensure that the most vulnerable are not hurt. But then I let Yadid’s words sink in a bit more. I have so many privileges that I have been ignoring those who have been vulnerable for years. I am a white heterosexual male educated blue-state elite. How long have I been asleep?
I have been living in unconsciously in the bubble of the American Dream. Yadid’s comments reminded me of something that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his moving book Between the World and Me. There he wrote:
That Sunday, on that news show, I tried to explain this as best I could within the time allotted. But at the end of the segment, the host flashed a widely shared picture of a 12-year-old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer. Then she asked me about “hope.” And I knew then that I had failed. And I remembered that I had expected to fail. And I wondered again at the indistinct sadness welling up in me. Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm late-November day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you. (Between the World and Me)
The election of Trump is a real wake up call. But it does not change the fact that for many of us, it is our fault that we have been slumbering through the misery of others.
Interestingly the Talmud deals with a related issue. There we read:
Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream. ( Psalms 126:1) Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children. Honi sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, Are you the man who planted the tree? The man replied: I am his grandson. Thereupon he exclaimed: It is clear that I slept for seventy years. (Taanit 23a)
In the Talmud’s version of the goes on to recount the Rip Van Winkle tale Honi is lost in his learning contemplating the 70 diaspora of the Jewish people. What does it mean that our diaspora could pass as a dream? As we have seen with the resurgence of antisemitism this is no dream. But have we been asleep and complacent while people have been targeting of Muslims, Mexicans, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBT, and women? Like Yadid, I am tempted to roll over and try to sleep through the next four years, but we need to wake up. I realize that I am somewhere between grumpy and bewildered about the amount of work that needs to be done. And shame on me because it was there to be done before the wake up call while I was sleeping in my cozy bed. Now that I am awake how will we ever bring about justice? As Rabbi Tarfon says,“You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” (Avot 2:21) And as we learn from the grandfather planting the carob tree for his grandson, there is not quick fix for anything that we want to sustain. We must think in terms of generations if we want to do the work of bringing about true justice.
So I tell myself and my children, “Good morning. Wake up. There is much to do. We have to dig in deep and do the good work.”