Jewish teens speak out about the future of the nation

By Anya Tullman, Sophomore, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

Unprecedented. Shocking. Upsetting. Uplifting. 

These words and many others have been used to describe Donald Trump’s election as America’s 45th president. 

Some cheered. Some cried. However, no matter which candidate a person voted for, most Americans believe that the United States is about to change drastically Jan. 20, the day Trump is inaugurated and takes a seat in the Oval Office. 

Will this change be good or bad? America will have to wait and see. 

Since the election, America has become increasingly divided. Protests against Trump have broken out across the country. Some Trump supporters have flaunted his win, while others, including members of various minority groups, feel concerned for their safety in an America run by a man whose platform included discriminatory comments toward African-Americans, women, the LGBT community and people with disabilities. As members of a minority group, many Jews feel that they, too, may be targeted. 

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“The 21st century now expects more of its leaders,” said Aaron Greenberg, a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School. “We now expect that our leaders will stand up for those of us who feel underrepresented. I don’t believe President Trump will be consistent in doing this.”

Aaron will be attending the inauguration with his Advanced Placement U.S. history class. He says the teachers have encouraged their students to go in with an open mind and a nonpartisan viewpoint. 

“Our teachers reminded us that we’re celebrating democracy,” Aaron said. “They also reminded us that in any election cycle, there are going to be disagreements and that it’s always important to respect people’s differing opinions.”

The Jewish people have been the targets of prejudice throughout history. Many now worry that some of Trump’s appointments, particularly Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, will invite or condone anti-Semitism and potentially cause history to repeat itself. 

“I think that Bannon is terrifying,” said John Burroughs School senior Ethan Orchard. “I find it funny that so much of the media encouraged (giving) Trump a chance, which I was perfectly willing to do. But the second he can earn my trust back, he appoints an openly anti-Semitic, ‘alt-right’ member to be his chief strategist.”

Ethan also believes, along with many others, that Trump’s election has somewhat normalized and allowed racist views into public domain at the highest levels of government. Many U.S. citizens look up to their president, and a discriminatory president could lead to a more xenophobic America.

“I believe that anti-Semitism was alive and well before Trump put his hat in the ring,” Ethan said. “I do believe, however, that Trump’s words have normalized racism in general. Many ‘closeted racists’ have come out and spoken out as a result.”

Although it seems like the overwhelming majority of Jews are against Trump and his administration, significant numbers of Jewish people support Trump. Some of these people believe that Trump’s campaign was based on extremes that he may have trouble following through on based on government’s system of checks and balances.

“I think that (Trump) had a lot of talk in his campaign that was just to win the campaign, where he seemed more polarized than he actually intended on being,” Ladue High senior Sam Shevitz said. “When he said that he wanted to put (Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton) in jail, I think some realized that he didn’t portray the ideas he intended on using when actually in office. I don’t think people realize that he can’t do whatever he wants, so I’m not scared of ‘what he might do.’ ”

Sam feels confident in America’s future relationship with Israel, though other Jews fear otherwise. Since being elected, Trump pressured President Barack Obama to veto a United Nations resolution that condemned Israel for expanding settlements in occupied territories. (The U.S. abstained in the Security Council vote, allowing the resolution to pass.)

“Now that (Trump) won, he is showing positive actions toward protecting Israel, which is obviously a positive motion for the Jewish community,” Sam said.

Nevertheless, Jews are among many minorities in this country. Because the Jews have survived so many instances of oppression, many Jewish people, including teens, believe it is their duty to stand up for others who feel threatened. 

“I think that Jewish people as individuals can reach out to people who are ethnic, racial, gender or ability minorities, people who share in a lesser degree of privilege,” said Rabbi Scott Slarskey, director of Jewish life at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. 

“One of the things that is important to learn from communities who have had to survive for hundreds of years, and the Jewish community is certainly like this, is that when institutions don’t work to protect you, you have to work to build relationships with people to organize for power and for protection.”

Slarskey said he believes that it is an appropriate response to reach out to people of different value systems and cultures. The Jewish people must be sympathetic toward other minorities in order to make progress.

“One core Jewish value that I think is really important is engagement with the other,” he said. “It’s important to take a close look at what words were used that might be upsetting to people or that might perpetuate stereotypes or things of that nature and hold (Trump) accountable for that.”