I know you.
You’re 19 and in college. Or 22 and between jobs. Or 25 and moving back in with your parents for the cost savings. Or 28 and in a job that’s OK, but thinking about moving on. Or 31 and thinking about a long-term committed relationship. Or even 36 with your first child.
Oh, and you were all on board with the Bern because, well, you’re idealistic. Or you were running with Rubio or Cruz because you like traditional values. Perhaps you liked (and maybe still do) one of the third-party candidates. Maybe you were just laughing at the whole circus of the presidential sweepstakes.
Guess what? The primary game is over. And now it gets real. The two candidates who appear to be the ones left standing have figured out that they’re going to be their party’s nominees for president. And there is a real choice here, because these two represent very different visions of what America and the world should look like.
Did you wait to register? Or perhaps you’re still registered at your last address? Or perhaps you haven’t signed up for absentee ballots? Maybe you even heard the (basically false) internet rumor that says that absentee ballots are only counted in a close election. Time to step up, folks.
I’m 60. The next president is unlikely to change the quality of my life or world in a serious way. But s/he IS likely to change the future of the world that you’re increasingly being expected to take leadership responsibilities in. So (and I hate this expression, but…), get over it. Deal with the fact that your idealistic candidate, whoever it may have been, is done. Move beyond your preconceived notion that you somehow aren’t going to make a difference. This time, maybe more than ever, you count. YOU. Yes, you.
Doesn’t much matter where you live, the election this time around is going to be too close to call. And yes, it’s months away. And yes, the major parties haven’t officially nominated their candidates. And yes, a few third parties are still in it, supposedly. And yes, I do still dream that Colin Powell will miraculously decide to lead an American Unity Party and grab all the disheartened voters, rolling to victory. But in the real world, we know where this is all going.
So right now, NOW, so you don’t forget: Register if you haven’t; update your address on your registration; sign up for absentee ballots if you’re not sitting in the state in which you’re registered. Do it today. You know who you are.
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.
I recently participated in a really great learning experience. A group of truly wonderful people gathered to learn from one another and from some of the greats, who are doing wonderful things in the Jewish community. The only real problem was the food. Some of the time, the food was great quality and served poorly, with lines stretching out well out of the dining room and into the hall. Some of the time, the food was terrible, such as beginning the day with cold hard omelettes that were left unharmed on a buffet area. Some of the time, the wait staff just cleared the food too quickly, not realizing that attendees were in sessions and might arrive a little late.
At the end of the event, the dining room was half empty, as many participants decided to go out for the meal, understandably. I sat next to a gentleman who I did not know and we got acquainted. And he spoke with me about his work which, among other things, supports “traditional marriage”. Realizing that I was going to strongly disagree with him, I was all primed to not like the guy and even to not respect him. As we were leaving the dinner table, he turned to the African-American waitress for our table, addressed her by the name that was on her name tag, and proceeded to thank her for serving us dinner.
And there you have it. Hakarat Hatov, the incredibly Jewish value of recognizing when another human being has done something good for you. And kavod, honoring the image of God, wherever you find it. And I apologize to you, my new friend. Because even though your opinions and mine do not align, you have taught me an object lesson in kavod haberiot, respect for God’s creatures. And you reminded me that, even though our opinions might be different, I should never believe for a moment that I don’t have something to learn from you. Because now that I have learned from you, you are my teacher and therefore are always to be treated with respect.
Which bring us to the Israeli elections and American politics. Very few of my fellow Jewy Jews are neutrals when it comes to the recent Israeli elections or to President Obama. I have my opinions, too. But here’s the thing: At the end of a conference with poor food, a colleague showed me how to treat another human being with respect, despite her connection to the food. Same here: Whether you like President Obama or not, he is the president of the United States. And he is deserving of the kavod, the honor, that a president of the United States gets. That’s why the rabbis in ancient times wrote a berecha, a blessing to be recited when seeing a great secular ruler, regardless of whether we like his politics. And most every synagogue in the United States recites a prayer for the government that specifically asks God’s blessings for the president, whoever it may be. That kavod must carry into the very public arena of the Jewish press and of social media. Treating the president of the United States with anything less than honor, even when disagreeing, is nothing less than a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.
At the same time, the Israeli public has voted and will retain Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some love his views, some hate them. But he is the leader of the Jewish (albeit secular) state of Israel, and that earns him kavod. To denigrate him, or those who ran against him, is also shameful and a chillul Hashem.
Let’s hate bad food. And let’s disagree over our politics. But let’s never let it get in the way of treating people with the honor due them for their role in life, the leadership they exhibit and their creation as humans in the image of God.