The Audacity of Hopelessness
The President-elect once bought a home whose deed prohibited its resale or rental to Jews. He had associations with a number of dubious characters, some of whom did not much care for Hebrews. In fact, he himself seems to have harbored some pretty anti-Jewish sentiment.
No, no, not Senator Obama. That was Richard Nixon, whose delivery of arms to the Jewish State during the Yom Kippur War helped prevent an Arab victory. And who, in the terminal crisis of his presidency, confided in two identifiable Jews – Henry Kissinger and Boruch Korff (known as “Nixon’s rabbi”).
Then there was President Harry Truman, who wrote that he found “the Jews… very selfish” and expressed anger at the fact that “a thousand Jews [had been brought] to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed.” The same Harry Truman who acted to help Jews in postwar Europe and supported Israel’s creation – against his own State Department.
Such examples point to a truth paid lip service but not always internalized: History is determined not by any sovereign’s personal biases but by the ultimate Sovereign’s insuperable will. As King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 21:1) “Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem.”
Which idea should inform all our political thoughts. What matters most is never a particular candidate but G-d’s plan – and our merits.
I don’t think I’m the only Jewish observer who found (and find) certain expressions of anti-Obama sentiment in parts of the Orthodox community less than reality-based. Many of us may have supported Senator McCain for a number of valid reasons – his experience, his willingness to reach across the partisan aisle, his maverick-ness, or simply because they disagreed with Senator Obama’s positions – but anyone who voted Republican because of the Democrat’s ostensible animus for Jews or Israel was not terribly different from commentators who portrayed Mr. Obama as a Zionist dupe. Osama bin Laden’s top deputy described the President-elect as a “house Negro” who has chosen to “pray the prayer of the Jews.”
Yes, Mr. Obama associated with a nutty, rabble-rousing pastor. But when the clergyman’s looniness was exposed, the Senator denounced both it and him, in no uncertain terms. Political expediency? Perhaps. But perhaps personal conviction. It is unbecoming and unwise to deny the President-elect the courtesy of taking him at his word.
That his path crossed with that of an aging 60s-era radical was unremarkable; seeing it as evidence of some secret anti-American conspiracy was scraping the bottom of an empty barrel. I would certainly never want to be judged by some people I’ve had occasional professional dealings with.
In four years, we will be able to look back and assess the Obama administration (or its first term) – and be either harsh or hailing. Now, though, none of us can claim prophecy. What we can know is that the next President of the United States is long on record as supportive of Israel, enjoyed broad Jewish support (and knows it) and has no record whatsoever of having expressed any ill will toward Jews. And that he is smart and savvy, and surrounds himself with similarly smart advisors (among them, as it happens, a number of Jewish ones).
There may be valid concerns about how the Obama presidency will turn out; I don’t mean to dismiss them. But the degree of fretting among some members of the tribe strikes me as unwarranted, even audacious.
I’m as paranoid as the next religious Jew. I don’t doubt for a moment that the wonderful haven that is the United States cannot be taken for granted. But neither do I doubt for a moment that it is a wonderful haven – and that no reasonable case can be made that President-elect Obama’s mantra of “change” includes any alteration of that happy historical reality.
Yes, efforts must be made with the exit of an Administration that many of us regard as singularly praiseworthy on many counts; and the arrival of new boys on the beltway whose wisdom and judgment have yet to be tested.
Political activism is certainly called for, and there was much discussion at Agudath Israel of America’s recent convention, as I am sure there was at the Orthodox Union’s, about strengthening existing ties with the President-elect and his Administration, and creating new ones. Both organizations’ full-time Washington offices are already in anticipatory high gear.
And above and beyond that, prayers are surely indicated – but with (excuse the word) hope and trust in G-d, not paranoia and fear.
And with awareness of the words of a recent Council of Torah Sages statement:
“It is incumbent upon all Jews… to show President-elect Obama the proper dignity and honor due to the leader of our country…, with whom we look forward to a warm and productive relationship. May Hashem, in Whose hand the hearts of all earthly leaders reside, guide America’s new president to succeed in carrying out his awesome responsibilities in a manner that will bring great blessing to the Jewish people, to America, and to all of humankind.”
And let us all say, Amein.
© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
This essay was adapted from a longer one in Mishpacha magazine, and is offered here with its permission.]
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