Editor’s Note: This opinion piece discusses a social media post made by Republican Senate candidate John James after his donation to the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, senior director of the JHCN, told the JN the group appreciated John James’ unsolicited donation to assist during COVID and had a brief call to thank him, “but we do not make political endorsements” and “we did not authorize any social media posting, and as a policy we never authorize anyone to make any political statements on our behalf.”
A recent post by John James is making me question the values of a local Jewish organization.
I remember a lot about when my dad died. It was painful and scary and lasted nearly a decade.
But I also remember the love, care and guidance I received from the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network (JHCN). It’s impossible for me to untangle the cold memories of my dad’s last breaths from the warmth of the unending support of the organization. Their mission: “No Jew is ever alone,” and in those moments, they truly exemplified it.
“No Jew is ever alone” is quite the sentiment. It asks us to grapple with what it means to live in an interconnected society, one where we are not just responsible for, but also have the means to ensure nobody is left behind.
So what would it look like to leave our fellow Jews “alone,” to turn our backs or stand idly by?
I happen to think it might look like a recent post on social media from Republican Senate candidate John James, showing him and the leaders of JHCN proudly smiling in a Zoom meeting. Yes, the same John James who, after losing his 2018 Senate race, has doubled down on his “2,000%” support for Donald Trump.
When I saw James’ post, after a quick double-take, I was left nearly speechless. I couldn’t believe an organization with unimpeachable values could truly be supporting a man who promises to follow in the footsteps of an impeached president. I continued to search for an answer. It turns out it was hiding in plain sight.
I am deeply grateful we are able to support the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network through the Nickel Promise. Thank you again Rabbi Freedman & Rabbi Krakoff for taking time to meet with me today to discuss how we can continue to support your work in the future — Chag Sameach! pic.twitter.com/uu6GSYfmZm
— John James (@JohnJamesMI) October 9, 2020
A few months ago, John James promised to donate 5% of his campaign funds to charities. To me, his gift feels like a last-ditch effort to pander for the Jewish vote.
Did JHCN allow themselves to be used as a platform for the James campaign? That is why I am feeling so much hurt and confusion right now. The organization has every right and, quite frankly, probably a responsibility, to deposit a check they receive. But I also believe JHCN has a responsibility to the community to either accept the money privately or refuse if it will knowingly cause harm.
John James is a man who supports taking away my current access to health care, the very access that gave my dad some measure of dignity in an otherwise wholly undignified death — and has not offered any coherent replacement. A man who believes insurance companies can charge you more or outright deny you coverage altogether if you have pre-existing conditions such as being born a woman, acne or are a person who requires mental health services. A man who proudly wishes, and promises, to eliminate abortion rights and do all he can to overturn laws that allow me to control my own body, leaving women open to dying during childbirth. A man who indefensibly invokes the term “genocide” to describe it as well.
But we know true genocide. The survivors of the Holocaust who sit in our synagogues or respond to “mom” and “dad,” “bubbie” and “zayde,” know true genocide. John James’ wish to assert that a woman’s right to control her own body is an example of “genocide” is simply outright dangerous and inexcusably disgraceful to the Jewish community.
In a race this preposterously close, for our institutions to turn their backs, to leave us alone while providing a platform to someone who will unequivocally put more Jewish lives in danger has very real consequences — no matter how hard we want to look the other way.
In addition to James’s stances on important healthcare issues — which should worry a group so intimately connected to our healthcare system — entertaining a candidate who proudly stands with Trump, who said the Charlottesville marchers were “very fine people” and told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” is not merely putting forth a difference of opinion. It is, instead, agreeing to overlook a policy platform wrapped up in dehumanization and the delegitimization of human beings.
Accepting a donation from James is to decide anything is worth the price of discrimination and bigotry; the same discrimination and bigotry still heard in the Charlottesville chants of “Jews will not replace us” just over three years ago.
Thus, I know I cannot turn my back, I cannot leave our Jewish community alone as our Jewish organizations potentially help to elect a man who has promised to be a great risk to my life and the lives of millions of others. The Torah teaches us, “kol yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh” — all of Israel are responsible for one another.
Or, perhaps put another way, no Jew is ever alone.
Annie Jacobson is an intersectional feminist, actress, writer, singer/songwriter, and MS, CCLS candidate. Her life’s work involves using her voice in a multi-hyphenate approach to help change the world.