With the results of the presidential election in, the country is divided between elated, devastated, and indifferent with Donald Trump’s upset last night. While we don’t do politics around here, there is one piece of this story that does relate to our work: history was made last night as there has never been a first child who is an Orthodox Jew.
Now Orthodox Jews have climbed the political ranks over the last 30 years in both major parties. In 1989 Senator Joe Lieberman made history as the first Orthodox Jewish Senator, at which point questions arose as to how he would deal with voting if a national emergency occurred on Shabbos. He made history again in 2000 when he was nominated as the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate.
In 2007, Mike Mukasey made history as the first Orthodox Jewish Presidential Cabinet member. And then in 2012, Jack Lew was the first Orthodox Jew to be appointed Chief of Staff, reportedly giving President Obama a chance to show Mr. Lew how respectful and accommodating he would be of his Shabbos observance.
While first daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are not elected positions, they do raise some interesting ways Jewish ritual and traditions could obliquely enter the White House. During a campaign speech, Ivanka mentioned that her father asked her to pray for him. She and her husband did so right before the election by the grave of a great Hasidic rebbe, certainly a first in a U.S. Presidential election. And while the White House is famous for its West Wing, might the President elect’s family ever pray during a visit facing eastward?
Also, as many converts and baalei teshuva (returnees to observance) who come back to their parents’ home do: will some kosher pots and pans, dishes, and burners be set aside in the kitchen (which in this case would be the White House kitchen)?
Shabbos clocks and elevators would likely need not come into play, as there is a large non-Jewish White House staff who would take care of electricity needs, but perhaps the White House would see its first Shabbos observed within its walls. First cholent, anyone?
There have been numerous Pesach seders and Chanukah candle lighting ceremonies held in the White House, but could the first Orthodox Jewish first children and grandchildren bring a Sukkah there too? Or at least a parsha sheet read by one of the first Orthodox Jewish first grandchildren who attend Jewish day school?
In a world where we are seeing increased diversity across an array of fields, Orthodox Jews still remain a largely misunderstood group with the worst of the community making most of the headlines, and the positive and moderate parts mostly staying under the radar. Will this historic election affect that in any way? Only time will tell.
There is much for the President-elect and his team to accomplish as we countdown to the inauguration and a lot for us as a nation to digest. These points, while relatively minor, would certainly constitute historic ‘firsts,’ and it would be fascinating to see if they come up, how they might be addressed. Stay tuned!