Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on Barack Obama, Reverend Wright, and the Frenzied Jews of America

I have received several emails about Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments over the last couple months and I have to admit that the number and tone of the emails bothered me much more than what Wright said. Of course the issue has become less relevant since the main point of the authors was that Obama was getting a free pass from the press regarding his relationship with Reverend Wright. That situation is now quite the opposite after a full-month of non-stop coverage.

It is also obsolete because Obama responded in an amazing speech dealing with the subject and the issue of race in general which I believe should be mandatory viewing for all Americans. You can find it on You-Tube or the Obama website. I didn't have a lot of concerns in the first place, but for those who did it is hard to imagine those issues weren't put to rest by Obama's comments on the subject.

Here's what REALLY bothers me. Every time I received these emails they were addressed to anywhere from five to fifty other Jews (judging by the addresses) and they had the same ominous tone of so many others these days.

The common theme seems to be that Jews have a special responsibility to be super-aware and constantly on the lookout for Jew-haters and those who want to do Israel harm because we all know that anti-Semites are everywhere and we are very vulnerable at all times. No gentile can ever truly be trusted because we all know that if you scratch a goy, you'll find an anti-Semite.

It seems like I am getting more and more of these passionate warnings with increasingly urgent tones expressing greater and greater levels of fear and alarm at a time when life for Jews in the U.S. has never been better. We have never been more accepted, more sought out or more loved by any mainstream society in history. A recent poll has shown that Jews are the most admired religious group in the U.S. and that more than 80% of non-Jews would be moderately to extremely pleased if their child married a Jews. That is almost the exact opposite of the poll numbers in a similar survey taken in the 60s. It has gotten so "bad" that the organized Jewish community has declared intermarriage to be a "crisis" but the rising numbers are the result of how well we're doing and how accepted we are.

But let me get back to the email that prompted my response in the first place. The writer says he was thinking of voting for Obama but now he can't because he discovered that many years ago, Obama's pastor made anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks. He goes on to unfairly compare Obama to David Duke or Cynthia McKinney. Each of them made offensive remarks themselves. In the case of Obama, it is a case of guilt by association.

Obama has made it clear that he has had a long-term relationship with Reverend Wright. He has also made it clear that he finds the remarks in question to be offensive and has clearly stated that he thinks it is wrong for anyone to feel or speak that way. But he also points out that the important relationships in our lives are also complex. Most of us have many friends and family members who say and do things that make us cringe but who are also there for us when we need them or who have other qualities that make them important to us.

I want to share two personal anecdotes that I think are relevant.

The first is a story about the only time I ever got to hear the late Lubavicher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, speak. I remember it vividly for two reasons: first because he spoke at the same time as the NCAA Final game when Villanova upset Georgetown (23 years ago today) and second because of what he said.

As you know, many of his followers believed that the Rebbe was in fact the Messiah. They may still believe that for all I know. There is no doubt that Lubavich has done a great deal of good for many Jews in the U.S. and around the world. I know several individuals whose lives have been transformed in a positive way by their contact with Lubavich.

So, as you can imagine, I was excited to hear the Rebbe speak. He devoted most of his talk to explaining how anyone who is involved in a non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism is committing a crime against the Jewish people that is worse than what the Nazis did. He explained that such a person is committing a sin that will have impact for many generations whereas the Nazis only killed a single generation. If I hadn't heard him say this with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it.

It hit me close to home because my ex-wife and I had just adopted our daughter Sarah (now 30 years old and a day school graduate) and had had her named in our Reform Temple. What the Rebbe said was about as personally insulting and distressing as anything I had ever heard.
So let me pose two questions: First, does the Rebbe's hateful and repulsive insult to liberal Jews offset all the great works he had done for the Jewish people in other venues? Reasonable people could disagree. But that's not a good analogy to the Reverend Wright situation since Wright is not running for office.

The fair analogy would be if a follower of Lubavich or any Jew, including myself, had later run for public office, would it be appropriate for someone to vilify him because he hadn't repudiated the Rebbe or the organization? As horrible as the Rebbe's comments were, did it totally negate all the good Lubavich has done? I think the answer to that question is clearly "no" and the subject is so flimsy that it would never be raised.

Second story.

When I served in the Air Force 35 years ago, my best friend was a guy from Louisiana named Warren Duffy. He was loyal, open, and always there for me at a very tough time in life. He once physically protected me when I was in a very precarious situation. Warren had a major shortcoming, however. He was a life-long and incurable racist who used the N-word constantly. It made me cringe every time I heard it and it did cause me to think less of Warren. But he was still my friend. It never reached a point where I went to him and said that unless he stopped speaking that way we couldn't be friends. Maybe I should have said that, but I didn't and I think I made the right decision-for me-to remain his friends based on the totality of our relationship.

If Warren ran for president, I don't think any of the black men in our unit would have voted for him and they could have legitimately called him a racist. But if I ran for president, could the blacks in our unit rightfully vilify me for not ending my relationship with an unrepentant and outspoken racist and claim I was not qualified to serve and should never be trusted by a Black person? I don't think that would be logical or fair.

I also find the reaction of the media to this Wright episode to be quite alarming. The video clips we have now all seen dozens of times are quite old. They have been part of the public domain for years and Obama has been a candidate for many months. And yet, the news coverage went from non-existent to constant--overnight. This may have been the work of the Clinton campaign at first, but it clearly has developed a life of its own.

I was thinking of the scenes I have viewed in Fahrenheit 911 and elsewhere of President Bush and his family in intimate family-like settings with the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia. They have apparently been very close family friends and business partners for decades.

As you may recall, on September 11, 2001, our nation was attacked by terrorists who were almost all Saudis who got virtually all their funding from Saudi government sources and who were educated in Saudi schools which taught them to hate Israel, Jews, and America with all their hearts and beings.

I have yet to see any of the news media focus on this subject or even mention it. Isn't this far more disturbing than Sen. Obama's relationship with his pastor. I have never heard a single call for the Bush family to repudiate the Saudi Royal Family or anyone calling for Bush to resign because he can't be trusted to be loyal to America in view of his long-time relationship with those who funded and educated the terrorists who attacked us.

At the end of the day, I worry that way too much energy is expended by Jews spreading emails that are full of hate and fear at a time when those of us who are fortunate enough to be Jews in America should be focused on how to use our unprecedented power and affluence to fulfill our most important mission-Tikkun Olam-leaving the world a better place that it was when we got here.

Israel is equally blessed regarding the position it now holds in American public and political opinion. I was at the AIPAC Conference in Washington last spring where virtually every member of Congress (including Obama) was present to make sure the whole world knew they stand squarely behind Israel. You have to look very hard to find a political figure today who is not supportive of Israel because Israel enjoys broad-based support from most Americans.

Regardless of what Reverend Wright might have said, neither Obama nor anyone else will be elected President without being a strong supporter of Israel. Our job is to keep our elected officials informed and on the right track-not to try to scare each other.

I hope and expect that my Jewish friends and their families are focused on that obligation. Instead of spreading incendiary emails that end up sounding racist and by applying a double standard, we should be working harder to keep our fellow Jews focused on the amazing opportunities we have-not worrying about other Americans who are out to get us.

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