This week’s social media adventure began for me with a tweet from President Trump proclaiming that “Jews are leaving the Democratic Party” and declaring that the Democratic Party doesn’t “care about Israel or the Jewish people”. This was followed by the usual meshuggenas who decided to let me know that the Democratic party is the “Party of Infanticide, Socialism and Jew-haters. In other words, Nazis”.
To be sure, there are issues with how the Democratic party is positioning itself on Israel issues (and there is tremendous diversity among its elected officials on these issues) and its response to anti-Semitism in its ranks have been less than fully convincing. But given the 50,000 votes a Holocaust denier in Illinois running on a Republican ticket gained in a recent congressional election, it’s fair to state that we have problems across the party divide.
Living in Florida and being registered as “no party affiliation” excludes me from voting next time around in a primary election. But I feel that I will want to. And I am, quite frankly, open to offers from any party. Six months before the primary, I need to switch to a party affiliation or be denied the right to vote in it. So here is the email that I intend to send to every presidential candidate before then:
Dear Sir or Madam:
I will be registering to vote in the upcoming presidential primary. In order to do so, I am required to select a party with which to affiliate. Despite a strong commitment to independent voting, I will do so in order to cast my lot with one of the candidates. If you would like my affiliation and my vote, I require your responses to the following:
- Would the people you work with, your friends, your children, and your spouse or partner consider you a genuinely decent person with a strong sense of values and a solid moral compass?
- How should the health and well-being of American citizens, including its aging members and those affected by poverty , be taken care of in today’s and tomorrow’s world? Be specific and explain who is going to pay for what.
- What ideas do you have to ensure that today’s children are prepared educationally for a world that doesn’t yet exist?
- Do you believe that there is knowledge and expertise in science, academic research as well as experience of those in the military and foreign affairs that must be taken seriously as we look towards the future of the United States and our planet? If so, what are the threats you see (environmental, political, etc.) that concern you and how would you plan to address them?
- Do you unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism of all forms as well as prejudice and bigotry against all minorities or foreign groups?
- Do you support a strong and secure State of Israel? What steps will you take to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table to move their conflict closer to resolution?
I look forward to your response and wish you the best as you compete to earn my vote.
A while back, I joined a few online groups committed to keeping things civil on social media and the internet. Great idea. Aligned with my Jewish values that are supposed to keep us (inclusive us: Jews, as well as the world) away from lashon hara and rechilut (some disagreement about how the terms differ, but generally, lashon hara is any chatter, while the rechilut brand of gossip is one that typically pits people against one another). To my disappointment, I heard little of nothing from any of these groups. I can’t tell whether the groups dissolved or merely died of frustration, much like the salmon trying to swim upstream.
In case there was any question about the ability of people to use the internet to spread malicious gossip and slander, this year’s election campaign removed all doubt. Oh, and lest we think that we might have a classy process, being classy went down with the now-famous discussion about the size of body parts in the Republican debates.
But back to the social networks. Real posts from Facebook friends and friends of friends, as well as from those I follow on Twitter have included the following goodies:
“Hillary Clinton is an anti-Semite”
“Hillary Clinton is anti-Israel”
“Obama hates Israel”
“Trump is like Hitler”
“Trump is a Nazi”
“Sanders is a self-hating Jew”
and so on.
It is as if the teaching of the Mishna, warning those who are wise to “be careful with your words” was missing from the texts of some of my Jewish friends. Or perhaps they simply decided that it was too much work to be “wise” and that this quote no longer applied to them.
Along the way from the civility of the early days of the campaign to this point, my friends have lost track of what the campaign was all about: an opportunity to talk about the real issues that we face as a nation and as a world; a comparison of approaches for the best ways to respond to those challenges; and a healthy debate about what each candidate offers.
Also lost in the shuffle: respect for elected officials. For people to pray for the welfare of the president on Saturday and Sunday, and then trash talk him the rest of the week, is religious hypocrisy.
Oh, as to the previously mentioned posts: None of the major presidential candidates has shown any evidence — in the past or present — of anti-Semitic feelings. You want to know what presidential anti-Semitism sounds like? Take a listen to some of the Nixon tapes. And by the way, his administration saved Israel’s hide during the Yom Kippur War. Do what you want with that.
No, nobody has shown evidence of being anti-Israel. There is a debate, in the United States as well as in Israel, what being pro-Israel will look like as we go into the future. It might not mean that Americans (or Jews) have to support every prime minister’s policies. It might mean that those who ask for a shortcut to the two state solution to which Israel has committed itself have to be respected as part of the dialogue alongside those who believe that the Palestinians cannot, in the current situation, be trusted partners in peace. This isn’t the first time that friends of Israel have had to open the doors to a new way of relating to Israel. It was just as earthshaking when Israel, founded and led by those with a utopian, Socialist bent, voted in the 1970’s to move to a more conservative set of governments. And it took quite some time for Israel’s friends to move towards support for a new set of government platforms.
Oh, and Trump isn’t Hitler. Scary? Sure. Inexperienced in public service? Totally. Verbally supporting violence? Yup. But as scary as he is, nothing he has said approaches Mein Kampf level. And by the time Hitler was entering political life in a serious way, that book had already laid out a future course.
Is the Bern a self-hating Jew? I have no idea. More likely than not, he is typical of a significant, if not majority of the American Jewish population: knows he has Jewish roots, believes in “Jewish values” (which are, pretty often, humanitarian values that have a reflect the “in the image of God” idea), is not involved in synagogue or Jewish philanthropic life, and feels some vague connection to Israel.
So, let’s move along. Each of the candidates (even Vermin Supreme) is created in God’s image and they, along with our president, deserve the respect due to another human. Each of the major (and many of the minor) candidates have a vision in mind. We can disagree with that vision and with the paths that would get us there. But insults and slander will not lead to results that will be helpful for our country or our world.
A simple proposal: In any other forum, some of the things being said about the candidates would result in a person being sued for slander. Let’s pretend that the rules are no different for presidential campaigns. Stand up for what you believe in. Oppose what you feel is detrimental. And let’s do so with respect and with class, not with slander. We’re created in God’s image. Let’s start acting like it.
During this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I will focus the attention at the services I facilitate to a Hebrew word: bechirah. The word bechirah means choice. The same Hebrew root, b-ch-r, is used for words that mean: free will (bechirat chofshit) and elections (bechirot). In an election year, that is certainly relevant. And at Rosh Hashana time, we reflect on the choices we have made in the past year and look to use our free will to make better choices in the coming year. All of these about the Hebrew word: b-ch-r.
Over a lifetime, any of us will participate in dozens of High Holidays. If we look at each year’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur separately from the previous year or the coming year, the prayers and rituals can become a bit monotonous. “We sinned, we’ll do better, Amen”. While it is important to look at our years, one by one, I believe that it is just as important to look at our lives with a broader lens.
In our narrower, year-by-year lens, we are saying: We have used our free will to make choices this past year. Some of our choices were good. Some of our choices were bad. We will use our free will in the coming year to make new choices. Some of our choices will be good. Some of our choices will be bad. Right. That’s pretty much the message each year.
The broader lens approach says something a little different: Indeed, we have used our free will to make some good and some bad choices in the past year. And certainly, we will try harder to make better choices in the year ahead. But there is a bigger picture here. To borrow a phrase from social media: What are the trending topics? In other words, when we look not just at each year by itself, but look at our 5 year trends or our ten year trends, what do they look like? If you’re a smart financial investor, that’s how you look at your investments, right? Not how well did they do last week or last month or last year. But how are they doing over a 5 year or 10 year return.
We need to look at our life choices in the same way. The short term picture of our past year gives us some data to review. And our commitment for the coming year gives us short-term projections. But the real investment question is: how does your life look in the long-term? Are the trends over the long term good trends, trends that show that we are continually moving in the right direction?
Making moral choices is what this season is about. And it’s not only about making the right choices for ourselves, but for how we use our moral choices to serve as role models and teachers for others. Dr. Tom Sergiovanni is one of the great educational leaders of our generation. He writes about how, in education, moral leadership is of prime importance. As he points out, and I concur, it is not merely in schools that
moral leadership is critical, but in families and in communities as well. As members of the Jewish people, or as individuals who are mishpacha, family to those with Jewish members, we see ourselves as moral leaders. Fallible like every other human, but with a leadership role for our world that we strive to carry out.
So what makes Rosh Hashana less monotonous, is movement from small picture to greater picture. Just as we move from what this past year and coming year look like to a bigger picture of what our lifelong trends look like, I suggest that we also move from our own individual lives to looking at how we express our moral leadership through choices on a family, community, national and even global level.
Which leads us to the topic of bechirot, elections. I have my personal preferences, politically. Actually I have always voted not so much on the basis of a particular party platform, but on the basis of the moral leadership that I’ve spoken of. Which candidate is a true leader? Who leads on the basis of the personal values that I respect? Who has the most integrity?
Having said that, either of the two major political parties could have easily won my vote. I watched a few quick segments of the Democratic and Republican conventions, and was disappointed in both. The only thing I really learned from the conventions is that, even if you’re as good an actor and director as Clint Eastwood, it’s not a bad idea to have a script or at least some notes.
Know how either party would have had my vote this year? All either one had to do was to say, a month or two ago: Hey, Americans! We already know who is being nominated for president and vice president. And, within reason, we pretty much know what the party platform will look like. So, rather than spending over $136 million in tax money, plus millions more that were raised privately, plus millions more spent by convention participants in travel, food, hotels and other expenses, we’re cancelling the convention. In a year in which 1 out of every 10 people are unemployed and seeking work, plus more that have given up on jobs and are either taking retirement or have tried to open their own businesses [like myself]; a year in which 15% of Americans are living in poverty; a year in which 16% of Americans lack health insurance, we just can’t justify having a big national party to decide absolutely nothing. Instead, we’re going to donate ½ of what we’d spend on the convention, and ask the delegates to donate ½ of what they would have spent to shlep to Tampa or Charlotte and use those hundreds of millions of dollars to feed the hungry, create some jobs, save some people from foreclosure and insure some folks.
For a statement like that, I would have voted a straight party line. It’s all about integrity and putting things into perspective.
In this year, here are my two platforms:
- Moral leadership for our families, community and world
- Lifelong trends in how we make choices.
I invite you to spend these holidays reflecting on these two considerations and on setting our course for making and, as Gandhi remarked, actually becoming the change that needs to happen.
Wishing you a שנה טובה
Wishing you a shana tova u’metukah, a Happy and Sweet New Year,