Shabbat Surfing: Observing and Commemorating

Some political news you’ve probably already heard is that President Obama has appointed Sabbath-observant Jacob (Jack) Lew as his new chief of staff. Neighbors of his home in the Bronx may not be very familiar with him, but Mr. Lew is a familiar face at Rosh Pina, an independent Minyan that will start meeting at the DCJCC this spring. Perhaps he will maintain his familiarity if President Obama follows President Clinton’s lead and automatically defers to Lew’s Shabbat observance.

While three-day weekends sometimes just seem to mean that public transportation is a bit spottier than usual, MLK weekend is full of meaning for the Jews. Martin Luther King, Jr. was very connected with the Jewish community when he was alive and we can only wonder what the world would look like if it were not for his untimely death.

Still running on the tremendous energy of our 2011 December 25th Day of Service, the DCJCC’s Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service is at it again on Monday with a sold-out Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project at Community for Creative Non-Violence. Looking for another way to honor Dr. King and connect with the Jewish commitment to social justice? Congregations around the DC area are commemorating his legacy and dedication to love and justice with special Shabbat services tonight and tomorrow morning. It is a “perfect coincedence” that this Shabbat we start reading Exodus which, like Dr. King’s legacy, reminds us of the importance of human dignity.


Advertisements

Shabbat Surfing: Post-Iowa Caucuses

This week, Iowa finally got the ball rolling on the 2012 Republican nomination. While Jews make up just 0.2% of Iowa’s population, the internet was still abuzz about implications for the Jewish community as we get closer to a nominee.

Next stop, New Hamphire. Shabbat Shalom!

3rd Annual Presidents Day Salute to President Levine

Our third-annual Presidents Day posting from 2008, saluting the best example we could find in American speculative literature of what it might take for a Jew to be elected President in the United States. One year into the historic Obama Presidency I am still struck by the novel’s remarkable prescience at the challenges a President or serious Presidential candidate from a traditional “outsider group” would face.

Barack Obama may very well become the first African American President, or alternately Hillary Clinton may become the first woman elected President. It is even possible that John McCain may become the first, well, really really seriously old white guy to be elected President (72 on inauguration day). It is safe to say however, that the first Jewish president is yet to be on the ballot.The Wanting of Levine

So for the time being Jewish Presidents belong to the realm of fiction, which brought to mind Michael Halberstam’s 1978 bestselling novel The Wanting of Levine. It is long out of print, though it appears in the catalog of the Montgomery County Public Library system. When I went seeking a copy this weekend, the librarian I consulted noted the book had not circulated in five years and was probably long-gone from the shelves. Lucky for me, she was wrong.

Set ten years in the future from its publication date (and twenty years before our current quadrennial contest), the novel presents a United States that is well on its way to being a second-rate power. Energy rationing is in effect, standards of living are declining, racial violence is increasing, individual states are involved in border wars over trade and tariffs — there’s a general sense that things are going to hell very quickly. To top it off, the Democrat’s front-runner for the nomination has just stabbed his wife to death in a drunken rage. Enter the mercurial figure of A.L. Levine, until now a back-room DNC committeeman after a fortune made in sales and real estate development. When circumstances thrust him into the spotlight, Levine begins his own unlikely candidacy.

The novel is one-part political insider fiction, one part-late seventies sex romp, one part liberal Jewish wish-fulfillment and one-part a canny take on the rhythms of political enthusiasm and what Americans want from a President. Written as it was in a pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, pre-Internet and pre-collapse of the Soviet Union (just to mention a few epoch shaping “pre’s”) era, the novel obviously has limits when applied to today’s political landscape. Certainly, Levine, with a libido Bill Clinton could only envy, would not be electable, never mind even runnable in today’s climate.

But certain aspects of Levine’s character — his “firstness” to coin a phrase, his lack of governing experience, his personal charisma do bring to mind the current campaign. In one stump speech he says:

This is the first time I have run for office. It’s an advantage not to be a politician because like all occupations, politics puts a mark on a man. Politics is a worthy, noble profession, but a lifetime in it requires so much compromise, so much dealing, that a person tends to forget what his real principles were in the first place. … Compromise is necessary, but a lifetime of it leaves a mark. It is fine for a career in the Senate, but not necessary or even desirable in a president. I am, I believe, experienced in politics, but not a politician.

Later, with his inauguration impending, Levine speculates to himself about what a great President might be in these times and perhaps anticipates the appeal to “purple states” and our first bi-racial President:

Something always had to give. In that he felt his strongest hope. If there is anything I can do, he thought, it’s to mediate, to intercede, to explain. What the country needs is a middleman, and as a middleman I’ve had two-thousand years practice. Without a middleman, without someone who genuinely felt for both sides, the country was going to tear itself apart, the young at the throat of the old, the freezing at the throat of the conservationists. The defenders of privacy clashed with the legions of the right-to-know. The right to bear arms collided with the right to avoid being shot to death at a stop light…Each American had his passion, and each clamored for attention, shouting, “I’m right! I’m right!” and demanding, insisting, that the government ensure his claim to the right–while denouncing the spread of government.

It is a novel thirty years on, that is as breath-taking for what it gets right as for what it gets wrong (Mexico figures large in the novel, but in geo-political terms it more resembles modern Venezuela). It captures the spirit of the contact sport that is American politics, while at the same time, is unafraid to cop-to the sublimated desires of the body politic.

Michael Halberstam was the brother of renowned author and journalist David Halberstam. Michael was an internist in Washington, DC when he wrote the novel and was tragically murdered a few years after the book’s publication in dramatic circumstances.

Presidents Day: Our Annual Salute to A.L. Levine

Re-posting this from last year, because even back in February 2008 I couldn’t have predicted how prescient this novel was in many important ways. And looking back now, I am tempted to say there’s a striking similarity between A.L.’s years in sales and our current chief executive’s experiences in community organizing. Whatever. In the interim A.L. has started getting some more love — Ben Greenman at Nextbook had a nice appreciation just after the election saying what I had suspected back in Iowa: that a novel about a Jewish President prefigured many aspects of the Obama candidacy. I only hope more people come to appreciate in the coming years.

Barack Obama may very well become the first African American President, or alternately Hillary Clinton may become the first woman elected President. It is even possible that John McCain may become the first, well, really really seriously old white guy to be elected President (72 on inauguration day). It is safe to say however, that the first Jewish president is yet to be on the ballot.The Wanting of Levine

So for the time being Jewish Presidents belong to the realm of fiction, which brought to mind Michael Halberstam’s 1978 bestselling novel The Wanting of Levine. It is long out of print, though it appears in the catalog of the Montgomery County Public Library system. When I went seeking a copy this weekend, the librarian I consulted noted the book had not circulated in five years and was probably long-gone from the shelves. Lucky for me, she was wrong.

Set ten years in the future from its publication date (and twenty years before our current quadrennial contest), the novel presents a United States that is well on its way to being a second-rate power. Energy rationing is in effect, standards of living are declining, racial violence is increasing, individual states are involved in border wars over trade and tariffs — there’s a general sense that things are going to hell very quickly. To top it off, the Democrat’s front-runner for the nomination has just stabbed his wife to death in a drunken rage. Enter the mercurial figure of A.L. Levine, until now a back-room DNC committeeman after a fortune made in sales and real estate development. When circumstances thrust him into the spotlight, Levine begins his own unlikely candidacy.

The novel is one-part political insider fiction, one part-late seventies sex romp, one part liberal Jewish wish-fulfillment and one-part a canny take on the rhythms of political enthusiasm and what Americans want from a President. Written as it was in a pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, pre-Internet and pre-collapse of the Soviet Union (just to mention a few epoch shaping “pre’s”) era, the novel obviously has limits when applied to today’s political landscape. Certainly, Levine, with a libido Bill Clinton could only envy, would not be electable, never mind even runnable in today’s climate.

But certain aspects of Levine’s character — his “firstness” to coin a phrase, his lack of governing experience, his personal charisma do bring to mind the current campaign. In one stump speech he says:

This is the first time I have run for office. It’s an advantage not to be a politician because like all occupations, politics puts a mark on a man. Politics is a worthy, noble profession, but a lifetime in it requires so much compromise, so much dealing, that a person tends to forget what his real principles were in the first place. … Compromise is necessary, but a lifetime of it leaves a mark. It is fine for a career in the Senate, but not necessary or even desirable in a president. I am, I believe, experienced in politics, but not a politician.

Later, with his inauguration impending, Levine speculates to himself about what a great President might be in these times and perhaps anticipates the appeal to “purple states” and our first bi-racial President:

Something always had to give. In that he felt his strongest hope. If there is anything I can do, he thought, it’s to mediate, to intercede, to explain. What the country needs is a middleman, and as a middleman I’ve had two-thousand years practice. Without a middleman, without someone who genuinely felt for both sides, the country was going to tear itself apart, the young at the throat of the old, the freezing at the throat of the conservationists. The defenders of privacy clashed with the legions of the right-to-know. The right to bear arms collided with the right to avoid being shot to death at a stop light…Each American had his passion, and each clamored for attention, shouting, “I’m right! I’m right!” and demanding, insisting, that the government ensure his claim to the right–while denouncing the spread of government.

It is a novel thirty years on, that is as breath-taking for what it gets right as for what it gets wrong (Mexico figures large in the novel, but in geo-political terms it more resembles modern Venezuela). It captures the spirit of the contact sport that is American politics, while at the same time, is unafraid to cop-to the sublimated desires of the body politic.

Michael Halberstam was the brother of renowned author and journalist David Halberstam. Michael was an internist in Washington, DC when he wrote the novel and was tragically murdered a few years after the book’s publication in dramatic circumstances.

add to del.icio.us :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: add to ma.gnolia :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: TailRank :: post to facebook

Jacob Javits Called it For Obama in 1965

A quick shout-out to my li’l sister, who edits the always-interesting Oxford University Press blog. Today she published a moving and fascinating essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr.  (I’m told his friends can call him “Skip”)on Barack Obama’s historic victory last night. Although the emotional highlight of the essay is his description of his 95-year-old father’s amazement at Obama’s election, there is also a thorough and serious review of, “Who could ever have imagined something like this?”

The answer it turns out, is Jacob Javits —

The award for prescience, however, goes to Jacob K. Javits, the liberal Republican senator from New York who, incredibly, just a year after the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, predicted that the first black president would be elected in the year 2000. In an essay titled “Integration from the Top Down” printed in Esquire magazine in 1958, he wrote:

“What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate of 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world and its relationships. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. . . . Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics . . . those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison.”

In the same essay, Javits predicted both the election of a black senator and the appointment of the first black Supreme Court justice by 1968. Edward Brooke was elected to the Senate by Massachusetts voters in 1966. Thurgood Marshall was confirmed in 1967. Javits also predicted the election to the House of Representatives of “between thirty and forty qualified Negroes” in the 106th Congress in 2000. In fact, 37 black U.S. representatives, among them 14 women, were elected that year.

All in all, Sen. Javits was one very keen prognosticator. And when we reflect upon the characteristics that Javits insisted the first black president must possess—he must be well-educated, well-traveled, have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world, be a dedicated internationalist and have a very thick skin—it is astonishing how accurately he is describing the background and character of Barack Obama.

The Best New Year’s E-card. Ever.

To send yours, click here.

Baruch Obama

The Daily Show makes fun of your grandmother, and you, what are you going to do about it? Probably post it to your blog or something…shtinker!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Baruch Obama“, posted with vodpod
%d bloggers like this: