Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reverend Wright and the Haredi Community

The election season is over and most, if not all of us are looking forward with hope to an administration that will set a new course for America which will be a blessing to us and the world. It was a fascinating campaign, perhaps the most intriguing that I have ever witnessed. One of the negative, and disturbing elements of the campaign was the sound bites in a closed loop viewed on television ad nausea of Reverend Wright spewing his vitriol and hate towards the white establishment and Israel.

Initially, I like so many others took umbrage not only of Reverend Wright but of Senator Barak Obama for listening to this hate speech for twenty years. Surely, I reasoned, like so many others, if he’s been exposed to this for so long he must agree with it, at least partially, or he’s shown bad judgment in associating with this church. I recalled that when we lived in the St. Louis area, the rabbi (musmach of Ner Israel) of our shul (orthodox) was homophobic and delivered sermons reflecting that. After the earthquake in San Francisco (circa 1990) he commented in one of his sermons that L.A. was the epicenter of tumah because of the rampant homosexuality. It became clear to us that we would have to disassociate from the shul because the rabbis values didn’t reflect ours. Fast forward to the current imbroglio of Senator Obama with Reverend Wright: I reasoned that if I reacted as I did when living in St. Louis then surely, Senator Obama should have disassociated from Trinity Church if he didn’t agree with Rev. Wrights rants.

I found this vexing almost to the eve of the election. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading as much as I could on Obama, his background, interests, voting record and causes that he supported. I found that there was a definite dissonance between his public record, what he supported and his continuous twenty year membership and attendance at Trinity Church. I wanted to vote for him, but was finding it difficult in light of his association with a church and reverend that was so consumed with hate towards white America and Israel. On one particular Shabbat, I davened in a shul that triggered certain recollections of growing up in a frum community where I davened frequently in a shteibel. I remember the vitriolic sermons (Yiddish) of rabbanim in which there was no love for the goyim. Had those sermons been caught on tape there would have been wonderfully compressed sound bites that could have been used to discredit the Jewish community?

Truth be told, we as Jews had our prejudices; especially those who came from the European experience and tasted the lash of anti Semitism, if not the shoah. But it wasn’t only the European Jews who held these prejudices against goyim. There were Jews as myself, born in America, to American parents who never experienced anti-Semitism. Yet I accepted the prejudices of my community because I was part of the community. Wasn’t this true also of the black community? Perhaps their experience was even more poignant. After all I never experienced anti-Semitism, why should I have any dislike for goyim? The average black person, however, has experienced multiple times racism in his/her lifetime.

A friend of mine, a hareidi, asked me if I felt that Rev. Wright ought to be buried in a military cemetery when the time comes in view of his remarks. I was shocked and disturbed by the question. After all, he is an American patriot, regardless of Sean Hannity’s opinion. He was in the military, served with distinction and discharged honorably. That is a lot more I can say of our hareidim, who not only do not serve their country in the military, but do little if nothing towards the good of America. (I question if they even consider America their country. In fact it wouldn’t be too far fetched to believe that they consider America a transient camp, a stop-over, until the Messiah comes and transports them to Israel.) I asked my friend if he wasn’t ashamed of the question? How many hareidim sit down to turkey dinner on Thanksgiving and give thanks to America? How many hareidim serve in the U.S. military? How many hareidim identify with Memorial Day? How many hareidim know the words to the “Pledge of Allegiance” or the “Star Spangled Banner”? And what about all the hareidim, born in America that barely speak grammatically correct English, or do so with a yiddish accent? I’m confident that Reverend Wright believes in the words to the “Pledge of Allegiance”, sits down to turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, appreciating this great country.

Having reflected on all this I don’t think that Reverend Wright hates America anymore than our rabbanim hate goyim. I do believe however, that there is a sense of deep frustration and sometimes the appropriate words just aren’t there to express what we truly feel.

Senator Obama is now President Elect Obama. I am proud of this country for having elected him and believe, as do so many others that we are a blessed people with a hopeful future. I also believe that he, like Reverend Wright and our hareidi community do not hate, but may have at times, expressed frustration with the system. It may very well be that this historic election has been the true and appropriate expression and redemption of America.