Many years ago, a story was making the rounds about the first Jewish
person elected to the Presidency of the United States. The most significant
obstacle that President-elect Schwartz seemed to face, was a mother who didn't want to leave North Miami Beach for the January inauguration in Washington D.C.
With much coaxing and encouraging, Mrs. Schwartz relented, and took her place at the
inauguration seated between the Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of the
Treasury. As her son approached the lectern, preparing to be sworn in by the
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mrs. Schwartz turned to the Secretary of
State and whispered, "Do you see that young man up there? His brother is a doctor!"
While such a scenario, of course, never took place, a wave of euphoria
swept through the Jewish world last week with the surrealistic announcement that
Sen. Joseph Lieberman was selected to be the running mate of Al Gore for VP of the
US. A Jew as VP? A Jew a heartbeat away from the Presidency, and a likely
candidate for the office of the Presidency in 2008? It boggles the mind.
How should we feel? What should we be thinking? What type of direction does
the Torah give us to understand and relate to this momentous occasion?
Undoubtedly, the sense of pride we feel at this accomplishment of one of
'our own' is first and foremost in our minds. This achievement of Joe Lieberman is a
testimony to the blessing from God that this very fine man in particular has received. Senator Lieberman's appointment should also stir
within us feelings of appreciation to the Almighty for the liberties and
opportunities the Jewish community in America has. Life in this country has been good to us,
and we should use this occasion to thank the Master of all blessings.
The selection of an orthodox Jew to a high honor is a Kiddush HaShem -
a sanctification of God's name. Even Republicans have praised Joe Lieberman as
a man of honesty, integrity and principle - and the worst that they've found to
say about him is - he's a Democrat with Republican values! We've seen images over the
past week of Sen. Lieberman leaving his home, and leaning to kiss the large
mezzuzah on his door. Discussions of Kashrus and Shabbos fill the national airwaves -
and the prospect of America and the world seeing up close in the months before the
election a Jew who acts like a Jew, and lives like a Jew - not only makes our hearts
swell with pride - but brings joy in anticipation of the dissolution of stereotypes
in the minds of those who have erroneous impressions of the Torah way of life.
As a news commentator said this past week, "This will be the most widely
covered and televised Sukkot, in history."
Comedian George Carlin once said, "In every silver lining, there's a
dark cloud". Pessimism for the sake of pessimism is never in order; I do believe however,
that there are two issues of concern regarding the Lieberman nomination that need
to be discussed.
As Jews and as Americans, a question that we must raise is: Will a
Jewish politician be effective when it comes to Jewish issues? Historically, those
who have been amongst the least enthusiastic and effective in advocating issues
important to our community have been.....Jewish politicians on the national stage.
When the decision was being weighed to bomb German supply lines
to concentration camps during WW2, it was the Jewish politicians in FDR's
inner circle, fearing charges of 'Dual Loyalty' who were most resistant to
advising the President to take action that would have saved so many Jewish lives. Let me
state it in the following way; would you prefer a Jewish politician as President in
1948, weighing whether America should endorse the fledgling State of Israel - or a
Harry Truman? Moshe Dayan credited the actions of Richard Nixon with saving Israel
during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Would a Jewish American President have had
the political independence to have done the same?
I personally find quite disturbing Senator Lieberman's refusal to
support a call for clemency for Jonathan Pollard. In the case of Jonathan Pollard, Senator
Lieberman has been rigidly firm in petitioning President Clinton NOT to grant clemency to Pollard.
According to a JUSTICE FOR POLLARD release, August 8.2000, we are told,
"Although it is all part of the open record of the case, Lieberman refuses to acknowledge the lack of due process, the judicial errors, the broken
plea agreement, the use of secret evidence, the use of false evidence, and the grossly disproportionate sentence Pollard received...In a private
conversation with Jonathan Pollard's father, Senator Lieberman indicated
that his primary concern with the case was THE ISSUE OF DUAL LOYALTY AND
THE FEAR THAT THE PERCEPTION OF HIS OWN LOYALTY TO AMERICA MIGHT BE CALLED
INTO QUESTION." Helen Freedman, Executive Director, Americans For a Safe Israel, writes:
The conclusion here is that perception takes precedence over justice.
Will Lieberman, like so many public Jews before him, consider the dual
loyalty question to be more important than the rightness of an issue having
to do with Jews, and Israel, for fear of how it might affect his career?"
A Jewish President and or Vice President may not necessarily be the full-fledged
blessing to the Jewish community that some anticipate.
The second concern I'd like to raise is based upon a verse we read last
week in Parshas Devarim, where the Torah states (2:3) "enough of your circling
this mountain; turn yourselves tzfonah (northward)" The Kli Yakar writes that the
word 'tzfonah' can also be rendered 'hidden,' from the root 'tzafoon.'
Accordingly, HaShems message was 'remain hidden'; meaning, that if a Jew is blessed with
good fortune, he should keep it hidden from the other nations. Why arouse their
jealousy and wrath? Developing this thought, the Kli Yakar complains that the Jews in
his time were calling attention to their lavish homes and exquisite clothing.
Such flaunting of wealth only causes envy and hatred. R' Elchonon Wasserman
explains Klal Yisrael's being referred to a single sheep among 70 wolves in a similar
manner. If a sheep was grazing among 70 wolves, would it not try to make itself as
Inconspicuous as possible? It certainly would not bleat shrilly, to taunt
and incite the wolves. This isn't a 'galus complex,' but rather, a 'galus code of
The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry pales in comparison to the liberties
that the Jewish community has been granted in America, and the success we've achieved
in our relatively brief stay on this continent. Yet: remaining inconspicuous in
Galus is the Torah approach, and we can only pray that the appointment of Senator
Lieberman carries with it only brocha for his family and the Jewish community
We thank God for having lived to see this monumental occasion,
so ripe with opportunity for Jewish pride, and the sanctification of God's
Holy Name. Our prayer is that the Almighty bestow blessing and wisdom upon Senator
Lieberman in the months ahead in his campaign, and, perhaps, in a term as the
first Jewish Vice President of the United States of America.