By James Russell
FORT WORTH — A political clash was on the horizon and Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth had to prevent it.
Two members of his congregation in the southwest part of the city were running for the same seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Democrat Elizabeth Beck first had to defeat primary opponent Dr. Dan Willis in the primary. Both had sought to take on Rep. Craig Goldman, a four-term state Republican incumbent. The race, which Beck ultimately won, was tight to take on Goldman, whose seat is among state Democrats’ top targets.
Nationally, Democrats had just seen two prominent Jewish presidential candidates — former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — duke it out for the nomination before ceding it to former Vice President Joe Biden.
So, figuring he was not alone, Zimmerman asked clergy colleagues from across the country what to do.
“Every one of them said no, they hadn’t faced this issue,” he said during a morning Rosh Hashanah sermon.
He bounced the question off Rabbi David Segal, a visiting scholar for Selichot. Rabbi Segal is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s lead organizer for Texas.
“He was at a loss. And he’s not usually at a loss,” Zimmerman said.
So, having to go at it alone, he had an idea about preventing divisiveness over the political battle.
Beck and Goldman would each walk down the aisles and sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary. They would then hold the Torah and march through the temple while congregants reflected on the candidates’ commitment to the country.
The goal was to get the members to ask, “How can we be our best Beth-El selves?”
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing the temple to move to online High Holiday services, shelving that vision.
Yet Zimmerman beams with pride at having two candidates as members of Beth-El Congregation. “How many Jews live in Fort Worth? A few thousand. This is really incredible. Let’s not be so jaded that we don’t realize how incredible this is. Two leaders from the same temple running for the same position in Fort Worth, Texas. In our broken country, this is something to feel proud of. Let’s take a moment to feel the awe and wonder of this experience in our collective history.”
For Beck and Goldman, the obligation to serve and better their communities has been instilled in them since childhood.
“We’re asked how we can make the world a better place,” said Beck, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran. “It’s not enough to be a good person and do no harm. The imperative is to fix something.”
There’s no imperative to run for office, “but it’s a natural progression,” she said.
Goldman is also well-known at Beth-El, where his family has been involved for more than 100 years. His brother, Elliot, is a City Council member in Westover Hills, a Fort Worth suburb. Another brother, Adam, is a prominent Austin lobbyist.
“I don’t just say I’m a fifth-generation Texan and fourth-generation Fort Worthian for the sake of it. I have a desire to serve,” Goldman said.
Both tout their service as their strongest qualities. Neither wants what has become a divisive campaign to divide the congregation either.
“We’re part of the relationship to the Jewish diaspora and its relationship to the countries in which we live. Jews have always had a unique bond with communities and countries we call home,” Zimmerman said.
When Zimmerman thinks about the race, however, he tries to imagine what the congregation’s founders would think.
“What would the first founding Jews in Fort Worth have thought 120 years ago if someone had told them that both people running to represent us in the statehouse would be Jewish and their faith will not be an issue for other citizens? I’m not sure if there would have been more laughter or gasps and which would have been louder,” he said.
The rabbi’s call to action is nonpartisan: He wants 100% of eligible members of the congregation to vote. (Early voting in Texas began Tuesday.)
“Get out and vote for our past. We owe an obligation to our past: from Germany to Poland to ancient Babylonia who couldn’t. For our past and for our future. How many Jews in our history have lived in fear, not even able to dream they could control their destiny in any way? What a gift,” he said.
Keeping party politics out of the pews at Beth-El
By James Russell