We Jews, like all other constituencies in America, have been caught up in the drama, headache and excitement of a presidential primary that included the first serious Mormon candidate. It also included, of course, the first woman and the first African-American to make it as far as they did, to the nail-biting finish line beyond which Senators John McCain and Barak Obama will vie for our nation’s highest office.
There was even a vegan candidate, but still no Jewish candidate for President of the United States. In honor of the primaries that were and the election that is to be, I would like to share with you three distinct personal reflections on these elections.
I. Rehilut. You may not have read that term in the newspaper or on TV, but it is, sadly, a fact of politics. Rehilut is a Hebrew term referring to the spreading of false rumors or malicious gossip. While it appears that no candidate is immune from the spreading of false rumors, I think the Jewish community should take a moment to reflect on the particular form of rehilut that has occurred during the Obama campaign, because it was targeted at the Jewish community.
This rehilut was not just the usual false information that circulates in campaigns, but particular false information about Obama’s race, religious practice, and beliefs that were concocted specifically to instill fear in members of the Jewish community. I am not speaking of the right of any person to criticize the stance of a political candidate based upon factual information about that candidate. This was entirely different.
E-mails, in particular, were circulated in such a manner so as to sow seeds of bigotry in the hearts of Jewish voters. Regardless of your own party affiliation or whether or not you believe Obama is the right person to lead the nation, these particular attacks stand out because of the way so much false information was used to inflame one particular voting group: us.
Most are relieved that the long primary season has come to a close, but I urge us to remember that shameful chapter of the story and stand up against it, should it manifest itself again for either candidate in the general election.
II. My second reflection relates to my experience as a pulpit rabbi. The Pew Center for Research conducted a study on religious voting patterns, which found that about 70–80 percent of Jews give their votes to the Democratic presidential candidate. With such statistics, it is no surprise to find large concentrations of Jewish Democrats in synagogues across America. Most Jewish Democrats, in fact, feel it is precisely Judaism’s core values that lead them to choose their Democratic affiliation.
Perhaps it is because my own parents were very loyal Republicans that as a congregational rabbi I always feel the need to remind all congregations that we are a home to Jews of all political party affiliations. As tax-exempt organizations, synagogues already have rules that prohibit the endorsement of a particular candidate or party. But beyond that, it is important to remember that a synagogue needs to be a place where all Jews and their families feel at home.
The synagogue can be a place where Jews with varied political viewpoints — besides praying, learning, and working on tikkun olam together — can also listen to one another and debate vigorously but with respect the political questions of the day.
III. Both presidential candidates are looking for support from the Jewish community. Both presidential candidates realize how important it is to be a strong supporter of Israel. We Jews should be cognizant that our community matters to the process. Our disproportionately high levels of engagement in national politics should be a source of great pride to our people. In November, choose your candidate and be sure to vote!