On the July/August issue:

No Trust

To the Editor:
Abe Greenwald cites high voter turnout as a positive sign for our nation (“The Trust Crisis,” July/August). But there is, alas, another side to the story. High voter turnout is not necessarily a good thing. When a lot of people vote, it means they are worried. High turnout in today’s America reflects the strength of the polarization in our society. More people voting for their preferred candidates does not bring society together.

Somewhere in the range of 60 percent voter turnout is the sweet spot. There is a majority who vote. Among the nonvoters, of course, there is a small minority who feel totally alienated from the system and would never vote. But there is also a substantial group who feel comfortable with the way things are. Their garbage gets picked up. They’re okay with the schools their kids attend, and so on. They don’t bother to vote. When this group starts to vote, they’re worried. That’s when you know there’s a problem.
Gerald Stanton
Salisbury, Connecticut

To the Editor:
‘The Trust Crisis” is a well-written account of most of the ills plaguing our country.

The problem is exacerbated by the blind obedience and loyalty among members of the Democrat Party as well as Donald Trump’s base. These voting factions will not even acknowledge the slightest disappointment in their own sides. It doesn’t matter what they’re shown in terms of facts and evidence. They will simply not admit to any deficiencies in their team.

The overall failings of government haven’t helped either. There had long been a sense that the American government was morally righteous but involved in occasional bad things for good reasons. That isn’t so anymore. Every government organizational acronym—DOJ, FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, DEA, ATF—now brings corruption to mind. They have thoroughly lost our trust. This is to say nothing of our deeply uneven legal system, in which we witness prosecutions and punishments that are out of line with any moral or logical system.

But the primary driver of Americans mistrust is our being forced to accept progressive ideas that we don’t really believe in.
David Mari
Palm City, Florida

To the Editor:
Though Abe Greenwald’s article on trust is sobering, it is also encouraging. I, too, believe that America is stronger than we realize and our center will hold.

I especially thank Greenwald for his clarity on the ludicrous and destructive gender propaganda flooding the nation. He is right to name all the leading psychological and psychiatric associations that have succumbed to the popular lies. Our children are being indoctrinated and maimed, and it terrifies the average voter.
Deborah Hall
Chautauqua, New York

To the Editor:
I thank Abe Greenwald for putting in words the comprehensive discomfort I have been sensing over the past few years. We are faced with a thick forest of mistrust but too often roped into arguing about the merits of a particular tree here or there. Greenwald has provided a map of the forest, which is necessary to facilitate the larger discussion of mistrust in America.
Clay Littlefield
Charlotte, North Carolina

Abe Greenwald writes:
Gerald Stanton is wise to point out the distressing aspects of high voter turnout. But in a time of crisis, it’s healthy for citizens of a democratic republic to be worried and express their concern. They’re not hysterical—they’re right. My point was that it’s now heartening to see, given that so many Americans claim not to trust our elections at all. That significant numbers of them still consider voting a meaningful way to hold government accountable speaks to a wellspring of trust hiding in plain sight.

I share David Mari’s frustration about partisan lockstep in both major parties. Tribal loyalty is sure to increase in low-trust environments. But he is a bit too gloomy on the failings of our government. To be sure, there’s significant cause for outrage. And it’s good that Americans are calling for accountability. But we mustn’t take the day-to-day successes of American institutions entirely for granted. There’s still no other country in the world where I’d prefer to start a business, let alone face investigation or stand trial. And, in fact, it is the denunciation of all American success that drives the progressive ideas we both find detestable.

Thank you to both Deborah Hall and Clay Littlefield for their kind and thoughtful words. There is now an active and ongoing campaign to counter the advance of radical gender ideology, and it enjoys the vocal support of the majority. It’s only one “tree,” but all the roots in the forest are connected. And the reversals the country needs will be achieved in stages. 

Oliver’s Story

To the Editor:
I was disappointed to read Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s “The Boy Who Thought He Shouldn’t Run,” in the July/August issue, knowing that the actual events were significantly different from those Rabbi Soloveichik relied on in formulating his column.

Sometimes stories are portrayed in ways that lack the context, nuance, and complexity of a situation, and they are boiled down to a narrative that is more understandable for a wider audience. That is the case with the ESPN article and documentary that shares the journey of one of the students at my school and that Rabbi Soloveichik quotes exclusively in his column. Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS), an independent, pluralistic Jewish day school, does not plan activities, sporting events, or other competitions on Shabbat. However, as a pluralistic Jewish day school, we have permitted students who choose to participate in individual activities that are offered on Saturdays outside of the school context in ways that maintain Sabbath observance. Students may attend journalism conferences, Junior States of America convenings, debate competitions, and other activities where they are provided kosher food, can pray together, and travel before the onset of sundown on Friday evening. There are also activities, such as robotics competitions, in which the school does not permit participation over the Sabbath.

Over the years, many religiously observant and Orthodox student runners have traveled with their families before Shabbat to stay in hotels or homes in close proximity to the meet locations in order to participate in meets like the one described in the ESPN article. We have permitted these students to participate, and unlike what is portrayed by ESPN, there is no pressure on a student to participate. This is similar to academic competitions and other activities in which, according to many rabbis and their understanding of Jewish law, students are not violating Shabbat in the actual activity.

The ESPN documentary, upon which Rabbi Soloveichik’s article relies, was initially meant to highlight two students who had different approaches to competing on Shabbat. One student, who felt completely comfortable participating, is religiously observant and comes from a Modern Orthodox observant home. Oliver, the student in the ESPN article who has become steadily more observant and comes from a less religiously practicing family, chose not to participate. When the school was approached by ESPN, the half-hour documentary was intended to highlight the different ways religiously observant students balance their commitment to Jewish practice with involvement in society—a topic central to life at a pluralistic Jewish day school. The seven-minute film that ultimately was produced focused instead on just one student’s personal journey and does not fully represent the actual events. Anyone who is truly familiar with our cross-country running coach and the culture of the school’s team knows the deep support and respect that Oliver received both during this incident and throughout his years as a student, which is what cultivated his love of running.

I would suggest that the salient story here, one that historians will analyze, is the variety of ways that contemporary American Jews and their communal organizations practice, adapt, and engage their Judaism while participating in an open and free American society that welcomes diverse expressions of religion and culture. In fact, as the historian of American Jewish history Jonathan Sarna suggests, Jewish day schools serve as the “primary setting where American Jews confront the most fundamental question of Jewish life: how to live in two worlds at once, how to be both American and Jewish, part of the larger society and apart from it.” Oliver’s growth as a Jew was fostered in such an environment over many years.

CESJDS is a dynamic expression of contemporary American Jewish life where a broad cross section of Jewish students (over 22 percent identify as Orthodox) come together to study Tanakh (the Bible), Talmud, Jewish history, and Hebrew in addition to their secular studies. It is a place where students in our upper school have a choice of 14 different prayer options each morning, ranging from Sephardic and Ashkenazi Mehitza (separation between boys and girls) to alternative opportunities that explore Jewish spiritual life through the arts, journaling, meditation, and movement. It is a place where students and their families genuinely build community out of the many differences that characterize Jewish life in American today. Pluralistic schools can be messy, and they also teach students to understand and develop familiarity with practices and beliefs that differ from their own. They afford students the opportunity to enrich and enhance their own identity significantly, as they confront, debate, and grapple with difference. Students gain a greater appreciation for the totality of what it means to be Jewish and the varieties of expression serious Jewish engagement takes.

While I appreciate that pluralistic Jewish day schools may not be the choice of staunch denominationalists, they are a representation of Jewish life in American today. I invite Rabbi Soloveitchik to visit CESJDS to get a true understanding of the dynamic and supportive Jewish community we have built at our school.
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus
Head of School, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
Rockville, Maryland

Meir Soloveichik writes:
I thank Rabbi Malkus for his letter, and for his gracious invitation to visit the Charles E. Smith School. I remain puzzled, however, by his correspondence, as it seems to dismiss assertions made by the ESPN reporting on which my article was based, without specifying a single assertion that Rabbi Malkus deems untrue.

Let us briefly review the reported incidents I discussed in my piece. ESPN tells us that Oliver was psychologically bullied by his teammates, who deliberately created a group chat from which he was excluded. Does Rabbi Malkus mean to tell us that this never happened?

We are also told that Oliver was essentially instructed by his mother that he owed it to “the Jewish people” to run on the Sabbath. Does Rabbi Malkus deny that Oliver’s mother said this to ESPN? Oliver is quoted by ESPN as saying that he experienced “a lot of yelling and getting mad” from his “teammates, my coach, my school, my mom.” Were these stories manufactured? Was Oliver lying? Rabbi Malkus does not seem to make this claim, only telling us that ESPN’s article lacked “context, nuance, and complexity.” I would be delighted to learn that there are other elements to this story not included in the ESPN article, but that would not make the pressure that Oliver experienced any less wrong. But if ESPN’s reporting was in any way truly problematic, then the Charles E. Smith Day School should have immediately decried the documentary and the parallel published piece.

Here, however, is what is most striking: When the original ESPN reportage appeared, the Charles E. Smith Day School seems to have embraced it and appeared quite proud of what had occurred. I am not aware of any statement from the school denying or denouncing the documentary or the piece; on the contrary, a screening of the documentary was held at the school, and Rabbi Malkus participated. According to a report at the school newspaper, Oliver’s coach reflected that “one of the best kinds of outcomes of this feature is that people are talking about it.” Rabbi Malkus himself tweeted about ESPN’s reporting, seeming quite proud of the story that appeared in it, providing the YouTube link where it could be viewed, making no mention in the tweet of the possibility that it was in error, or even that it lacked “context, nuance, and complexity.” What are we to make of this? Is it possible that school leadership initially sought to revel in the publicity stemming from Oliver’s story, only later realizing that there are elements to it that are truly reasons for dismay, elements that do not cast certain aspects of Oliver’s school experience in a fully positive light?

I close by wishing Rabbi Malkus a shana Tovah, a joyous new year for him and his students, a year in which the blessing of Jewish unity will make itself manifest.

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