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Rabbi Encourages Parents To 'Fight For The Values We Believe In'


Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld leader of Ohev Shalom the National Synagogue here in Washington, D.C. We spoke with him earlier this year when he protested Donald Trump peacefully at a meeting of AIPAC earlier this year. He's been communicating with his congregation since the election, so we invited him to our studios here in Washington, D.C., to ask him what guidance he's been sharing with his congregation. I want to point out that we interviewed him on Friday in advance of the Sabbath. Rabbi, thanks so much for joining us.

RABBI SHMUEL HERZFELD: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And I wanted to just start by asking you to read one of the communications that you've been sharing with the congregation. You've been writing special prayers for them, you know, throughout the week. Would you just share the one you wrote this morning?

HERZFELD: Sure. (Reading) Dear God, please give the president the wisdom and courage to guide the United States of America with fairness and kindness and to help keep all of us safe and secure. Please give all of us the wisdom and courage to remember that while the president of the United States is an extremely powerful person, there is something even more powerful - our voice of moral conscience.

MARTIN: Thank you for that. You also wrote a specific prayer for parents. What is their specific concern? It's not just that their preferred candidate didn't win, but that they feel there's another issue here. What is that bigger issue?

HERZFELD: A lot of people in our congregation - they brought their children with them in canvassing and their children got all excited about the politics. And their children also now are facing the fact that a person who was such a bad role model, who used language that was really hurtful and to a large degree immoral, and now this person is the political leader of our country, people were struggling with how do their children understand the situation? And on another level, people themselves were grieving. Do we let our children know how we feel?

My feeling is that it's OK, and it's right to tell your children when you're sad about something if that thing is of real meaning. I mean, this is not like a sports team losing. This is something that people's values are so dear and deep and core to their principles, but at the same time, we are not going to walk around sad. We're going to tell our children we're going to use our energy for good things, and we're going to do acts of kindness and try to fight for the values we believe in.

MARTIN: There are considerations going forward. You were sharing that there are people who might be offered the opportunity to work in an administration. Many people might agree on certain issues with President-elect Trump, but they don't agree with the way he conducted himself. What should they do? What is your guidance?

HERZFELD: My guidance is that there are people who need to work on the inside, and there are people who need to work on the outside. I'm an outside person whose role it is to be a voice of moral guidance and conscience. But there are people who need to work on the inside, and people have to look within themselves and ask where they can make a difference for good. And if they're going to go in for the right reasons, then that's a beautiful thing. But if they're going to go in for the wrong reasons out of vanity, that's a terrible thing.

MARTIN: Do you have any final thoughts and reflections for the country going forward, what you would like to see?

HERZFELD: Well, first of all, I think that a lot of people are scared for other people. And some of the toughest people I've ever met in my life are immigrants, people who have worked their heart out just to get by, people I admire tremendously. They're not going to be afraid of Trump because they got here through their strength, and they'll be fine. And we'll work for them. And so it's not going to be helpful to anybody to be walking around sad or grieving.

We need to take our energy, our feelings of disappointment and turn it into something positive. Actually, much more important than who is the political leader and who is going to be the secretary of whatever is fighting for the core values and principles that we believe in. And those things are eternal and that will be here not only four years from now. They'll be here 100 years from now, a thousand years from now. Those are the values we need to focus on from a spiritual perspective.

MARTIN: That's Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld leader Ohev Shalom the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Shmuel, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HERZFELD: Thank you. God bless us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.