Arts & Culture

Now That Jews Can Mingle, Should We Partake?

So I was watching Senator Joe Lieberman on television at the Republican convention the first week of September going on and on about how much he deeply admires not only John McCain but also Sara Palin.  I began to wonder, … Read More

By / September 15, 2008

So I was watching Senator Joe Lieberman on television at the Republican convention the first week of September going on and on about how much he deeply admires not only John McCain but also Sara Palin.  I began to wonder, "For this my ancestors suffered and died?"

I’m the child of a Holocaust survivor and I’m named after my grandpa who perished in Auschwitz.  My grandpa never got to hang out with the ruling elite of Germany.  So maybe Joe Lieberman doing high-fives with Cindy McCain, Sara Palin, the Bush family, and Obama’s distant cousin Dick Cheney (from the Kansas mishpachah of Obama’s mom) should be viewed as a blessed event for my tribe.

But as Gilda Radner used to say after her rant on what’s the big fuss about saving Soviet Jewelry, "NEVER MIND!"

Here are 3 reasons why I’d rather Senator Lieberman (and other Jews) take a second look at McCain and Palin before getting deeper into bed with them: 

1) WE JEWS LIKE TO WRESTLE WITH TORAH, NOT TO ACCEPT IT BLINDLY.  Even our name Yisra-El means to wrestle with the Holy One.  So when John McCain said quickly last year that "America is a Christian nation," did that make you wonder about how much he wrestles with issues of faith and practice?  Or when he said last month to Pastor Rick Warren that what it means to be a Christian is not about following Jesus in repairing the world or confronting the powerful, but rather (in McCain’s quick answer that got huge applause), "It means I’m saved and I’m redeemed."  Did that feel like a very comforting answer to those of us who seek redemption through teshuvah, tikkun olam, and constant soul-searching?

2) WE JEWS DON’T TEND TO VOTE FOR BOOK BANNERS OR PEOPLE WHO FIRE LIBRARIANS WHO OPPOSE BOOK BANNING.  I really hope they get Secret Service protection for Anne Kilkenny and the fired librarian from Palin’s hometown who both got put in the irreversible "banished forever" file because they weren’t open to book banning.  I’m sure Sara Palin has many great qualities, but I certainly don’t want to see someone a heartbeat from the presidency who views everything in such black-or-white, all-or-nothing absolutes.  I know that John Kerry lost a lot of votes in 2004 when George W. Bush called him a "nuanced thinker" and Bush reassured the nation that "I don’t do nuance."  But we Jews have survived for thousands of years by embracing the fact that Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai are both correct and that in the nuanced tension between clashing views we find holiness and sparks of the Divine.

3) WE JEWS HAVE PLENTY OF POWERFUL INSIDERS WHO APPRECIATE US, SO LET’S NOT MINGLE TOO MUCH IN PLACES WHERE THEY ONLY WANT TO CONVERT US.   The key to Jewish survival has always been the supportive organizations we’ve created in every community where we’ve lived and the strong alliances we built with those who appreciated us as outsiders who are different and yet worthy of being treated with justice and kindness.  Rather than pretending we are in love with those who desperately want us to convert to their one-and-only way, we do much better when we create new alternative circles that help repair the broken world.  

For example, when I was researching my new book FITTING IN IS OVERRATED: The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider, I discovered a wonderful true story about a young woman named Bettye Goldstein who was excluded from all the cliques at Central High in Peoria because she was perceived as "too bookish, too Jewish, too honest."  So, young Bettye began to write articles and books on how to be a smart woman and find both men and women who would honor your strengths.  Then, under her married name of Betty Friedan, she began to form thousands of small consciousness-raising groups where women could find their voice and expand their support systems.  Like little havurot (groups of friends studying together and supporting one another through good times and rough times), these consciousness-raising groups changed the world enormously in the past 40 years.  But this change occurred not by trying to fit in with those who were out to turn back time to the way things were.  The change occurred by creating new supportive groups and friendships where it was finally ok to be bookish, Jewish, and honest.

Question:  What do you think?  Is it better to be different and create alternative circles of support and empowerment?  Or is it better to get invited to hang out with the currently powerful insiders and hope they will overlook the fact that you represent everything they detest?    For more on this topic, log onto www.fittinginisoverrated.com.

Dr. Leonard Felder, author of Fitting in Is Overrated, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.

Tagged with: