Religion & Beliefs

What Your Bubbie Really Thinks about Barack Obama

I stared at the words on my computer screen in utter disbelief: BETH SHOLOM SYNAGOGUE HAPPY NEW YEAR! PLEASE VOTE FOR THE SHVARTZEH! Everybody knows that you can’t trust everything you read these days. Websites disgorge tons of stuff that … Read More

By / October 22, 2008

I stared at the words on my computer screen in utter disbelief: BETH SHOLOM SYNAGOGUE HAPPY NEW YEAR! PLEASE VOTE FOR THE SHVARTZEH! Everybody knows that you can’t trust everything you read these days. Websites disgorge tons of stuff that leave you scratching your head. But, the fact that readers have to wonder if this synagogue really exists, makes a point: racism is still quite prevalent on the American landscape and Jews cannot be automatically exempted. Our history of oppression and our early involvement in civil rights cannot fully inoculate us from the disease. If we are candid with ourselves, Jews of my generation certainly have limited contact with any communities of color. Many of us are reflexively liberal on matters of race, but if ever a scarce slot in an Ivy League College goes to an African American when we feel a bit more deserving, or when a plum job goes to a person of color instead of to us, are we still so liberal? I do think there are generational differences at work. Younger Jews do not seem terribly phased by differences in race, gender or sexual orientation. The respect that this generation shows, for people as people, is heartening news for older Jews who need to confront their cultural biases and cannot simply presume that our historic role as victim gives us the requisite motivation to love all of God’s children. Some people will claim that the casual turn of the phrase does not mean much, that we can use phrases like shiksa and not feel or act prejudiced. Maybe. But, when Jews use the word shvartzeh, German and Yiddish for Black, the term often drips with condescension and bitterness. Putting it in plain terms, Sara Silverman would not have to urge you to shlep to Florida to get your Bubbie to vote for Obama if race were not a factor. Racism seems to be the only force capable of stopping Obama now, but it is indeed a powerful force. The election of Sen. Obama would show the world the promise of America. His defeat would show how far we still have to go. So, Jews of all ages have to dig deep to discover the values their tradition has firmly implanted within them, but is temporarily obscured. This week we begin the reading of Torah at the beginning, with the creation in Parashat Bereshit. The rabbis teach that only one person appeared in the beginning so that no group can claim supremacy over another. We are all equal before God. Soon we will know how much God’s will has become our own.

Rabbi Robert Levine, author of What God Can Do for You Now, is guest-blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.

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