Note: The headline of this piece has been updated to better reflect its content.
By State Rep. Dan Frankel
Confronted with the litany of lies, offensive remarks and misinformed pontificating that comes from the White House, I sometimes find myself tuning it out as I try to focus on the policies I can change and the help I can provide for my constituents.
But President Donald Trump got my full attention late last week when he touted a “Jexodus” movement to convince Jews to leave the Democrat Party.
This followed Trump’s comments that the Democrats are the “anti-Jewish” party because of their handling of controversial remarks by freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
It’s no surprise that this president would not understand why such a large percentage of American Jews identify politically with Democrats. Nearly eight out of 10 of them voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms, according to exit polling data. I cannot speak for all Jews — it’s as disparate a group as you’ll find — but I can tell you that the connection between these two groups runs deeper than any one policy or controversy could.
My Jewish faith and experience informs my experience as a Democratic legislator every day. The legacy of my ancestors continually pushes me to serve my neighbors, to fight injustice and to care for the sick and the defenseless. Those are the principles that also drew me to the Democratic Party, and I feel perpetually challenged to live up to them.
My road to Harrisburg was a path laid by service in the Jewish community, where I volunteered and advocated at every level for large and small organizations designed to help people. It was clear that our work was to care for the most vulnerable among us. That’s the job of community organizations, and it’s also the work of government.
Importantly, that’s what the members of Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations attacked at the Tree of Life synagogue building, were trying to do by inviting in and caring for refugees in our community.
Jews don’t have to look far backward in history to understand what it means when people’s humanity is stripped away from them; my children’s grandmother survived Auschwitz. The stories of the Holocaust are not distant or abstract to our community, and they continue to guide us in many ways.
That truth makes me all the more vigilant about recognizing anti-Semitic words and acts. I stand up against anti-Semitism, and I call it out when I see it. I also stand up for the civil rights of gays and lesbians, transgender men and women, people of all colors and races, and — yes — immigrants.
I also educate, clarify and discuss. I have learned the difference between anti-Semitism borne of ignorance and anti-Semitism borne of hatred: Both are insidious, but they are far from the same.
As a Jew and a Democrat, I know well that these are not homogenous groups. I’ve seen the volume go up at plenty of caucus meetings and I’ve seen heated arguments take place over more than a couple of Shabbat meals.
And while there is no lack of fodder for debate and personal introspection among Jews and Democrats, absolutely including Omar’s comments, our fundamental principles drive us together.
Dan Frankel, a Democrat, represents the 23rd District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.