For me, that’s a reflection of the priorities of my rabbinate. It’s both a kind of personal, spiritual journey of meaning, and finding strength and healing. It’s also about naming what’s going on in this country and figuring out what we can do.
Green: Are there any conservatives in your synagogue?
Brous: Politically conservative? There are some Republicans. I honestly don’t think we have any Trump supporters. I think they would have left by now. But we definitely have some Republicans. My board chair, who is a very strong and outspoken Republican, was very upset about the Trump nomination and wrote an article about why he was so devastated. He’s not alone.
But the real diversity in the community is on race, gender identity, sexuality, and religious practice. It’s very heavily skewed toward the progressive side, which I think is a reflection of where the majority of Jews are in America.
I went to give a talk at a [synagogue] in the early spring, and I asked the rabbi in advance of the talk, ‘Are there any hot-button issues I should avoid?’ I don’t really go there to get them in trouble; I want to make sure I know where the community is. And he said, ‘You can talk about anything you want, but not politics.’ He said, ‘We have three Trump supporters in the community’—three, out of a community of 1800 families—‘and they will go ballistic.’ He was told, after the inauguration, not to say the word ‘Pharoah’ because it seems political, like an attack on Trump. Rabbis are being told, because there are three people who think that the most profoundly indecent candidate for president that we have ever seen, and the most unqualified, reckless, bigoted and indecent candidate has risen to power, that now we can’t speak Torah anymore because it might make people think we’re uncomfortable with that person and his values.
For me, I say what I need to say. I’m not looking to build the biggest, widest tent so that any person with any political perspective should and could feel absolutely comfortable here. I think in those environments, we become so neutral and so numb that we can’t actually say something.
The new normal is not normal. I’m glad I’m not in an environment where I’m afraid to say out loud, ‘This is not okay.’ I say that not because I’m a political pundit, but because I’m a rabbi, and I’ve spent my life studying these books that say decency actually matters.
Green: What’s ahead for the religious left?
Brous: The crisis in religion in America is that for decades, a kind of right-wing religious perspective, with its regressive politics, has been definitional for the way faith enters public life.
Part of the project is to say to people, ‘You don’t have to rid yourself of faith and religion because you don’t like that, because I don’t like that either.’ That kind of right-wing agenda that has been imprinted on religious life and leadership in America is not the only way to be religious. What we’re seeing right now is the birth of a really strong, multi-faith movement for justice in America, where people from all different backgrounds are essentially rising up in our own spaces, but there’s a connective tissue that’s weaving us to one another, where we’re saying we’re not giving up on faith, and we’re not giving up on the public sector.
And it’s real. It’s not some kind of fruffy liberalism. It’s really rooted in our traditions. That changes the conversation.