Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election 2008: Of Schleppers and Shandehs

The Year of Schleppers and Shandehs

As we prepare to go to the polls this week, the most important message I can reinforce is that everyone needs to get out and vote. While the polls tell us that the Presidential race is not close in Connecticut, the polls have been wrong before. No matter whom you support, it is important to do our democratic duty, or, more accurately, to exercise this electoral privilege.

Think of all the generations of our ancestors who were disenfranchised, who never had the chance to choose their leaders. And now, we live in a country where not only does our vote count, but the Jewish vote has become, for the second election out of the last three, a major factor in determining the outcome. We’ll know for sure next week, after the dust has been settled, but at this point, the entire state of Florida seems to be awaiting the verdict of a few Bubbes and Zaydes in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

You’ve heard all the jokes, for the past eight years. I’m as guilty as any of making light of this situation. (As in my Rosh Hashanah quip, that when I was asked what Jews would have done had Joe Lieberman been nominated by the Republicans for Vice President. My response was that we would have done what we always do when Joe is on the ticket: vote for Pat Buchanan). And many of you have undoubtedly heard Sarah Silverman’s plea for the Great Schlep as well as Jackie Mason’s response (see both at

Recent polls indicate that the schleppers made an impression on their elders, as Obama’s numbers have gone up among older Jews. But that has only intensified some of the personal attacks that have been directed most vociferously toward the Jewish community. I won’t comment on the most recent guilt-by-association accusation, involving Rashid Khalidi. You may want to see what Dennis Ross has to say about it in the Jerusalem Post, however.

I make no endorsement and stick to my declaration on Rosh Hashanah that both candidates are very supportive of Israel. Their approaches might be different, but that support is rock solid. Ultimately, Israel’s security goals can be achieved only through a combination of strength and diplomacy and with the help of an America that is respected around the world. The question we need to ask is which candidate will create the best environment internationally for this to happen.

What concerns me most is not the accusations of one candidate or another, or even all the horrible e-mails flying around, but rather that the scrutiny that Jews have been under has exposed a real seedy side that I had hoped had gone away. When Jews are interviewed, particularly in Florida, I’ve cringed more than once to hear those who will admit openly that they would have trouble voting for an African American.

That, my friends, is a shandeh (Yiddush for “national embarrassment”). It shames me to hear that. There are times when it is better not to be totally honest, even in this tell-all society, and when a national TV reporter asks someone that question, I’m sorry, it’s best to clam up if you believe that way. It is a reflection on all of us. And even those Jews who support McCain (for all the right reasons, not racist ones) should be cringing to hear fellow Jews openly speaking in racist terms.

The Jerusalem Talmud relates the story of Simeon ben Shetach related also in this Wikipedia article:

Simeon lived in humble circumstances, supporting himself and his family by conducting a small business in linen goods. Once his pupils presented him with a donkey, which they had purchased from an Arab. On the neck of the animal they found a costly jewel, whereupon they joyously told their master that he might now cease toiling since the proceeds from the jewel would make him wealthy. Simeon, however, replied that the Arab had sold them the ass only, and not the jewel; and he returned the gem to the Arab, who exclaimed, "Praised be the God of Simeon ben Shetach!”

When we show warmth and acceptance, we represent all Jews, the Torah, and even God. The same is true when we demonstrate pettiness and prejudice. The rest of the world looks on and wonders whether this is what we’re teaching our children.

Well, it’s not. We’ll find all out next week, when we sift through all the exit polls, whether racism is still alive and well among the Jews.

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