Wednesday, 22 October 2008

First They Came...

I have resisted writing this particular post for quite a while now, mostly because I am truly hesitant to get mixed up in the highly flammable combination of religion and politics. Yet, it seems to me that this election season in the United States has dragged all of us around the world kicking and screaming into its vortex and so, with much trepidation,  I cautiously wade into the fray.

I am a Canadian Reform Jew.  While many of my landsman might question my observance and devotion to my faith, I have no such qualms.  I have found a comfortable place in which to reside that allows me to follow the modern order of my religion, while not sacrificing basic tenets of observance, law and tikkun olam. (repairing the world) It is a fully egalitarian, inclusive, non-discriminatory and wholly monotheistic observance that allows me to participate fully in all aspects of religious law and it has been built on a tremendous foundation of social justice.  To me, this is the essence of Judaism and it is what we as Jews have always strived and fought so hard for.  

I am also a frequent visitor to the wonderful world that is South Florida.  The husband and I have owned property there for a number of years, and we have come to think of the area as a second home.  We have spent our time amongst many of the Jewish retirees that have made the area their homes. (We do spend time with people our own age too!! I am not yet ready for the Early Bird Specials!)  We have attended synagogue and social programs and we have shared laughs and tears.  Some of these wonderful people are survivors of the Holocaust, some are early baby boomers and some are just tired of the cold and have relocated to the balminess of the Gold Coast.  They wear their Jewishness proudly on their sleeves and they all know that the comfort that they feel was not always the case.  Every one of them can recount stories of anti-semitism from their lives.  Every one of them remembers a time when it was customary to bar Jews from country clubs, beaches, unions and colleges.  Every one of them can remember being tagged by some scurrilous racial epithet.  Many can recall the horrors of Nazi Germany and striving for a place of equality in their chosen country.  So, it is to these people that I must ask "How can we as Jews subject any person to the racism and hatred that we have fought so long and hard to eradicate?"  If the answer is that we cannot, then as Jews I am begging you to take a hard look at the campaign of fear, xenophobia and out and out racism that is being waged by the McCain camp against Barack Obama.

It is true that Mr. Obama has a difficult name for Jews to digest, but it was hard for the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers to accept the Bloombergs, Liebermans and Brandeises and that has seemed to work out okay.  It is also true that he is an African American.  So?  As a community, we have a history of fighting for the equality of all people.  Did not Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel march arm in arm with Dr. King at the civil rights march on Selma?  Wasn't it the Jewish community that was shoulder to shoulder with the NAACP in the voter registration drives of the 1960s.  When did members of my community decide it was ok to derisively call this tremendously gifted and educated man a "shvartza"?  When did we become so fearful?  If Barack Obama was Joe Lieberman and the same campaign of racism was transposed to a campaign of anti-Semitism, we would be screaming foul from every media outpost in the land. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into the viral world of hate that this campaign has spawned.  We as Jews know all too well the ramifications of hate and fear and we can never allow ourselves to become party to it either by commission or omission.

If John McCain is your candidate of choice because you truly believe in his policies and politics, then I cannot sway you and nor would I attempt to do so.  But, if you are voting for McCain because you are fearful of the black guy with the scary Arab-sounding name, then I urge you to take a second look.  The world needs change and the time is now. Barack Obama is the only candidate that truly represents at least a glimmer of hope for that kind of true sea change. I am too young to remember the excitement and the hopefulness that President Roosevelt or President Kennedy embodied.  This man engenders that kind of passion. Is he perfect?  Of course not, but he is worth the gamble. Unfortunately for me and millions more like me, we cannot vote in your election, the most important in a generation!  We leave it to your capable hands, my American friends.  As Jews, we need to leave behind the politics of fear, and embrace the politics of hope.  May we never again know what it feels like to be isolated or hated simply because we are not the majority. 

First they came for the Communists,
- but I was not a communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists,
- but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews,
- but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)

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