Op-Ed: US Elections: Don't Worry, Be Jewish
Ron JagerThe writer, a 25-year veteran of the I.D.F., served as a field mental health...
For mainstream Jewish America, the unquestioning and almost automatic support many liberal US Jews give President Obama seems to be inconsistent with their values and incompatible with their better interests.
Under Obama's policies, poverty has increased significantly, not only making more people poor, but making the poor poorer. Minorities and women have fared unusually badly under Obama and it is they who have borne the major brunt of his failed policies. At the very beginning of his Presidency, Obama was even quoted as saying that he wants "to put some daylight between America and Israel". So which ever way you cut it, Obama's actions and his performance have consistently been way behind what he claims to represent and utters at every opportunity as far as Jewish values are concerned.
So what are we, those Jews who will not be voting for Obama seem to be missing? How can we not see Obama's greatness? How can we not appreciate our man in the White House? In a seemingly desperate attempt to remain relevant as Jews, have our misguided Jewish brethren made Obama their modern day Johnny Appleseed, and do they see him as their means to spread the word, validating their need to be responsible for improving the lives of their fellow human beings?
In American Grace, a study of contemporary American religion, Robert Putnam and David Campbell report that Jews (unlike their Christian counterparts) tend to be tongue-tied on matters of belief and religious observances, but speak with great certainty about their responsibility to help “repair the world.” So important has this mission become that in some quarters it is held to supersede all other commandments. In the words of a young Reform rabbi in Los Angeles: “Don’t keep kosher, that’s fine; don’t keep Shabbat, that’s fine too;—whatever. But understand that it will take away your Jewish identity if you don’t fight for justice.”
Many in the American Jewish scene seem to harbor the belief that there is no single correct way to be Jewish, and that the single most important measure of Jewish authenticity is whether it feels right. Matters of belief and religious observance are all obsolete relics of the past as far as they are concerned. Israel and support for Israel is an issue that should not come at the expense of social awareness. With Obama in power, and talking about these very same goals of fixing the world and so forth, and leaving Israel behind to fend off for herself, one can begin to see why some American Jews are relentless in their support of Obama.
Last year, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, made the case for a more demanding Judaism at the annual assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. In his talk, titled “Our Birthright Is Torah,” Kaunfer urged his audience to “articulate why it matters for Judaism to survive,” answering his own question by invoking Torah as “our system, our language, our heritage.” But then, out of a reflexive deference to his audience and to the prevailing temper of the times, Kaunfer promptly went on to universalize the “our.” Torah “has something to say to everyone,” he asserted. “Not just kids. Not just day-school graduates. Not just synagogue-goers. Not just rabbis. Not just New Yorkers. Not even just Jews."
Such is the current Jewish ethos. It demands a global consciousness and rejects tribal allegiances
Lets forget about our collective Jewish needs; lets leave behind sectarian Jewish communal affiliations, lets do "tikkun Olam", namely, a term meaning that Jews are uniquely responsible for improving the lives of their fellow human beings all over the world. For many Jews, the imperative of social action defines the essence of Judaism. So lets celebrate a 'Jewish renewal' and a 'Jewish renaissance' in America, and repair the world. Obama has made use of slogans that are very much at the essence of what "tikkun Olam" represents; "Yes we can", and "Forward" are nothing more than a variation of what these transformed Jews are talking about; fighting for justice.
But he hasn't done anything to support those slogans.
This absurdity of supporting Obama so that he may "fix the world" and combat injustice doing "Tikkun Olam" is at the crux of why Jews continue to support Obama with no ifs, ands, or buts. Jewish American supporters of Obama seem to be willing to abandon and renounce their Jewish identity for a Universal identity.
They have no problem with downsizing their Jewishness, in the same manner that Obama has rejected over the past 4 years American exceptionalism.
These are both sides of the same coin and they represent the commonality of a culture and belief in cosmopolitanism and a feel-good mentality. Maybe, our Jewish brethren who see in Obama the personification of the one who can "fix the world" should pay a little more attention to boundaries, circling back to more traditional values that have been integral to the Jewish religion and to the American Jewish community.
Whether or not one rejects the importance of Jewish peoplehood or belonging to the Jewish tribe, I for one will celebrate my Jewishness by believing that “a family and community that prays together stays together”. Embracing a more inward-looking pride would be advised for our Jewish brethren who plan on making Nov 6 a vote for "tikkun-Olam".