Category Archives: American Politics

The Mitzvah of Voting

On the way to work this morning, we voted.  To me, voting is a privilege, responsibility, and a mitzvah.  The act of voting connects us directly with our local, state and national society because we are participating.  We say to ourselves and our neighbors that whether we like our choices, we take part.

Far too many people were unable to take part in the past.  Women, minorities, and ex-cons are among the people whose voices have been silenced.  Some are trying to silence voices this year, in 2012.  I believe that we owe it to our personal and communal ancestors to vote, because too many of them were unable to do so.  Can you imagine a conversation with a great (or great great) grandmother and telling her “sorry, I don’t want to vote because of X, Y, or Z?” She herself may have been of voting age in the early 1900s, but she was not allowed to do so as a woman.

Voting is a mitzvah, an obligation/commandment when we study the Talmudic text “din d’ malchuta dina” (the law of the land is the law) found in tractate Nedarim 28a.  This principle, found a number of times in rabbinic text, helps us know that Jews must follow the local law in all cases except where doing so directly contradicts halachah (Jewish law).  While voting is not required in America, it is an important part of participating in the law of the land.

I hope that voting fills you with pride and hope for the future.

On Hatred and Violent Speech

Our country has once again been shocked by gun violence.  A young man and possible co-assailant (I am purposely not adding to the publicity the young man is getting by not naming him) allegedly opened fire with an semi-automatic weapon with extra clips.  In a matter of seconds, he shot about 25 people who had gathered at a grocery store for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s meeting with constituents.   At least 5 people were killed, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and Gabe Zimmerman (Gifford’s director of community outreach who was engaged to be married.)

(Update 1/10/11) It seems that the alleged shooter had been influenced by the vitriol spewed in the last campaign, intolerance of those supporting health care reform, and websites listing political targets of Tea Party  some leaders, including the site of former Alaskan Gov Sarah Palin.  (Please note I said seems, as we won’t know what motivated him until the suspect talks.)   Although it now seems that the alleged gunman may or may not have been directly influenced by intolerant and violent speech and behavior, such speech has impacted people in the past.  For example, take a look at the Insurrection Timeline – a website which lists instances when vitriol contributed to violent actions.

It seems to me that in recent years political reporting (esp on the 24 news channels) and political discourse has focused on accusations, yelling, over simplifications and pointing fingers.  The price for this trend may have begun to reveal itself with violence like what happened today.

As the Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (the county where the shooting occurred) said,

‎”When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” the sheriff said. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Proverbs 18:21 teaches us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. I hope that Sheriff Dupnik’s words lead us to work to end the anger, hatred and bigotry so prevalent today.

Most of all I pray for a refuah sheleimah (a complete healing) of Rep. Giffords and all those injured in today’s shooting.  I hope and pray that the families of those murdered find strength in one another and that their loved one’s memory is a blessing.

On the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Earlier today the United States Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. DADT forced gay men and lesbian women serving in the US Armed Forces to choose between the honor, dignity and responsibility of serving in the US Military and living lives in hiding. When I served as a Chaplain Candidate Program Officer in the US Navy was only about a year old. The policy was already having a powerful impact, forcing people to choose between closet and career. At that early stage of the policy chaplains were in a bind – – be a safe person to talk to, help people cope, follow policy? Difficult, difficult decisions.

Fast forward to today and victory – – people can serve for all the many reasons that men and women choose to serve in the US Armed Forces: love of country, patriotism, desire to help others, discipline, earn money for an education, dedication, love of brother/sister soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines.   One’s sexual orientation no longer has to be a factor.   Freedom.  Freedom.

Judaism teaches us that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, whether men love women, women love men, men love men or women love women.  There are a variety of opinions within organized Judaism about the place of homosexuality in Judaism, but halakha and human dignity are not the same thing.

זה היום עשה הי - zeh hayom asah A – this is the day that G-d created, a day of rejoicing.

Some links on the repeal of DADT:

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz on why repeal of DADT is a spiritual victory

NYTimes news story

Service Members United

Twitter stream on DADT

Wikipedia info

Closing Days of 5770

As 5770 draws to close, I look back on a year of personal change, growth and many blessings. The year was largely positive personally, yet so many people in the world faced (and continue to face) challenges – war, unemployment, natural disaster, disconnection, abuse, fear and hate.

The shofar, a ram's horn blown during the High Holy Days to call us action, to introspection, to teshuvah.

There is much work to do in our world – many lives to help, many people who yearn for meaning, for connection, for hope. I pray that I can contribute a bit of my part in the days, weeks and months to come. May our world be more peaceful and better in 5771 than in 5770.

Jews in the American Military on this Memorial Day

Once again Memorial Day has come to the United States.  For many people the day corresponds to the beginning of summer, bbq, sales, a day off from work and getting together with friends.  Memorial Day includes these things for many people, but we need to remember the original (and I say most important) reason for the holiday – to remember the members of the armed services who gave their lives in battle, in conflict, or in training.

Regardless of politics and political opinion about the wars, actions and conflicts in which the United States has engaged. we can support the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of being in the US Navy Chaplain Candidate program.  I became part of the Naval Reserves.  I trained and served with men and women of passion, patriotism and devotion to call.  Rabbis have served in the US military services since the Civil War, and Jews have served since the Revolutionary War.  I am no longer in the Navy,  yet I remain forever changed by the short time I served.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember all members of the armed forces of all faiths who sacrificed their lives.  We think especially of the Jewish soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, coast guardsmen who have died.  A list of those who have died since September 11, 2001 is provided by the Jewish Welfare Board Chaplain’s Council.

Organizations Supporting and about Jews in the Military
Jewish War Veterans
Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council
National Museum of American Jewish Military History
Support Our Soldiers - send packages and encouragement to Jewish service members. (An effort of the Jewish War Veterans.)
The Brave – a listserv for families with members in the military

Links to some other posts on Jews in the military

I pray that the day will come soon when no country will need to send its children into battle and when armies are unnecessary, for then the words of the prophets will be evident all around – “Nation will not lift up sword against nation and they will not make war anymore. All will sit under their vines and fig trees and none will be afraid.”

Summertime, Freedom and Captivity

Growing up in the United States, summertime equalled freedom. We were free from school, free to play, ride bikes, sit by the lake, free to spend much of our time in our imaginations. Celebration of America’s Independence Day on the 4th of July amplified the focus on freedom.

This year, more than the previous 2 years, my thoughts turned to Gilad Shalit as we celebrated American Independence Day. Gilad Shalit has not known freedom for 3 years. He sits in captivity, captured in a cross-boarder raid by Hamas. None of his family, friends or colleagues have heard from him in years. Hamas, the terrorist government of the Gazan Palestinian Authority does not allow even the Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross to see him. This is in violation of international law and practice. (By the way, I wrote Gazan Palestinian Authority because the PA in Gaza does not get along with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank led by Fatah.) While he is not free, none of us are free.

Freedom is precious and cannot be taken for granted. I pray that Gilad will know freedom some day soon.

If you would like to learn more about Gilad Shalit, visit the website HaBanim.

Politics in the Shul?

What is the place for politics in shul? Where should the line be drawn for rabbis, cantors and educators?

IRS regulations specify that a clergyperson may not preach a sermon supporting (or demonizing) a particular candidate if the house of worship wishes to have tax exempt status. This rule draws a clear line, but what about other communication? What about conversations at kiddush, oneg or in the parking lot? Is it okay for the rabbi to send emails to congregants about partisan political issues?

I ask this question at this time because of the presence of politics in Shul JewCrew where I attend. A rabbi of Shul JewCrew refrained from formal political pulpit sermons during last fall’s election season. The rabbi sends congregants negative, partisan emails, invitations to political events on Facebook (JewCrew city’s “tea party”), discussions at oneg, and during private conversations.

For months now, I have felt that my views are unwelcome. I worry that I have to either defend my views or plan to extricate myself from a conversation or not go to shul. Why should an uncomfortable political conversation from the rabbi keep me from feeling comfortable at shul? The thought that I am refraining from going to my current spiritual “home” because of the rabbi’s politics makes me mad. US politics is not the rabbi’s role (IMHO). This rabbi does not work for a political organization, does not see his/her job as primarily educating representatives….

When I feel denigrated by the rabbi for my political view, how can I feel comfortable going to the rabbi for much more difficult or sensitive issues in my personal life?

A rabbi in another city preached from the pulpit many times during last election season and made the congregants who did not agree with him/her so uncomfortable that they stopped going to shul – and they themselves are a rabbinic family!

Please know that while I personally have a political opinion, I have a problem with rabbis pushing their views on either side (in American politics) in their congregations. The examples above are of each – a partisan republican rabbi and a partisan democratic rabbi.

What do you think? Is this happening elsewhere or only in the two examples above?

Palin Forces Women to Pay for Own Rape-Kits

While Mayor of Wasilla, (now) Gov. Palin told the police to require women to pay for their own rape kits to save money. She required this even though it was against Alaska law!

For more detials see the blog Leah’s Life and a CNN story.

Her record shows us how much value she places a) on law and b) on women.  What will she do when her “values” contradict the law when VP (or G-d forbid, President)?

Update:  See a powerful discussion of this issue at Feministe.

Sarah Palin & Jews for Jesus

On August 17, 2008, David Brickner (director of Jews for Jesus) spoke at Sarah Palin’s family church in Wasilla, Alaska.  Govenor Palin was in attendance. Mr. Brickner spoke extensively of his organization’s mission in Israel (they also do extensive work in America – especially with college students) to convert Jews to Christianity.  They call themselves Jews for Jesus, but the religion the practice is Evangelical Christianity.

In his sermon (download/read the entire sermon on the Wasilla Assembly Church website) Brickner details Jews for Jesus’s missions in Israel (and his son’s work in India). He describes the difficulty of converting Jews in Israel and highlights the important work that his group is doing there.

Following the sermon, the Pastor of the church, Pastor Larry Koon, offered a special version of the congregation’s closing prayer. This prayer likely encapsulated the day and focused Koon & Brickner’s messages.  Here is the prayer

Our Father in heaven, We stand before You as a people who’ve experienced Your grace, and we acknowledge that that grace was first extended to our people through Your people, the Jews; that there is not a one here in this room who would know Jesus and serve Him if there had not been a Jew, generations ago, that spoke Jesus’ name to our people.  Father, that comes full circle and we wish to extend Your grace back to Your people.  And we pray and we ask that as a result of this time here, and as a result of this offering, there will be people among the Jews today who come to say the name “Jesus” with faith. In His glorious name we pray, amen.

Governor Palin was there.  Her church advocates for the active conversion of Jews.  Not because the Jewish people are seeking such conversion (we are not), but because her church believes that is what they (good Christians) must do. In the time that she has been known as the nominee, Palin has often spoken of her faith but has never clarified that she differs with her church on this matter.  Even after this sermon got a small bit of press on, she did not see a need to say that her views are different from Brickner. All people need to seriously think about whether we really want to vote for someone who believes that Jews need to be converted.  We already know that she doesn’t find any validity in Evolution, believes in (and promotes in her state) abstinence only education – both of which are closely linked to ideologies in the Assembly church movement.  Since she acted on these issues in her state, why would she act differently about Jews being allowed to be Jews as Vice President?  Why not?  Will the Constitution really contain her? The GOP stance on religion in American life is clear – more of it.  The walls separating church/state are already very very low with faith based social services receiving government money.  Jews cannot vote for her without giving serious thought to this issue.

But, you may be thinking, isn’t she okay on Israel?  We don’t really know.  Let’s look to the sermon from her own church, the central focus of her life and her family’s life.  Maybe Brickner’s sermon will give us a clue.  Here is what he says about Israel.

But what we see in Israel, the conflict that is spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment.  There is judgment that is going on in the land, and that’s the other part of this Jerusalem Dilemma.

Brickner is blaming the Jews for the terrorist violence and war in Israel.  Why is Israel being judged in his statement above?  As you can see clearly in the full sermon – it is because Jews don’t believe in Jesus.  Really.  Is this the kind of Israel support that Jews need?

I went to the McCain Palin website to research this post and search for any statement put out by the campaign about Palin and her beliefs, her faith, and the role she sees it having in their administration.  I searched “Palin” and “faith” and received an error message for an invalid search.  (Guess McCain’s “I don’t use a computer” is also impacting the usability of their website.  Either that or they don’t want people to know what Palin believes. Hmmm)

Governor Palin supports open, pressured conversion of Jews.  She has said not one word to clarify, distance herself from, nor disagree with Mr. Brickner.  The Israel that some Jews think she supports is one where the violence is destined because Jews believe wrong.

I ask you again, is this the Israel support that the Jews need?


How much does faith inform her decisions?  Take a look at video of Gov. Palin preaching in her church in Wasilla on G-d’s plan for War (since we know that G-d “loves” war – not).

Two other blog posts on this issue: The Israel Situation, Blogs of Zion