How Obama Taught Me To Love American Jewry – Blog

December 20, 2011 by


OK, so I’ll admit it, Obama’s speech at the URJ biennial on Friday blew my mind.

If you haven’t seen in it, see it. If you haven’t seen it and you’re not American, see it twice.

Half-an-hour of effortless, seamless rhetoric tying together Jewish, human and American narratives in a beautiful figure-eight loop, that doesn’t seem to be coming untied anytime soon.

And did he really thank the URJ for being a catalyst in the civil rights movement, which ultimately resulted in the possibility of America electing a President of color? He knew that Heschel “prayed with his feet” when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.; mentioned tikkun olam at least twice; and gave a d’var torah on the week’s portion that linked awareness of self and responsibility to society.

There was pandering to the audience, but a clear recognition that he was in friendly territory. He even spoke about his daughter attending Bnai Mitzva parties. And this is the President of the United States of America. I felt almost personally star struck that he would be this aware of our existence.

I’ve been in DC for a year-and-a-half and it took President Obama to explain to me the real value of American Jewry. You Americans have taken an active and overt role in shaping the journey of this country. And, excuse me for stating the obvious, but for a mere 2% of American society, you guys are pretty important.

But before I hand in the application for my green card, I want to take note of the poetic timing of the Torah portion in Obama’s speech. In quoting the story of Joseph, Obama unwittingly sourced one of the key arguments for creating a Jewish State. For regardless of the fact that Joseph held a high political position and his people had joined the Egyptians to formulate a mutual future, there “rose a new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph” and swiftly enslaved the nascent Hebrew tribe. Throughout Jewish History there have been mirror episodes to this tale, with the Jews of the Golden Age of Spain going from trusted elite to persecuted, and eventually exiled, minority. And it forms a cornerstone of the Israeli psyche.

The American reality is different, as not only is there no new Pharaoh who will “not remember Joseph” in the 2012 Presidential field, there are also none in the foreseeable future. American Jews should justifiably feel safe in America, and if this were the deciding factor, I probably should apply for my green card.

Yet the role of a Jewish State cannot solely be seen as a shelter from anti-Semitism, or an escape from fickle rulers. It presents us with the challenge of no longer being a persecuted minority or a privileged elite. It challenges us with sovereignty, with majority status and most problematic, a normalcy which feels anything but normal. Many would be hard-pushed to categorize our attempts in these realms as a complete success. But we have opted to take a seat around the table of States rather than have a seat around the table within a State.

Obama taught me to love American Jewry, but he also clarified why I will be returning to Israel.


  1. Arthur Gewirtz says:

    Great article

  2. Arthur Gewirtz says:

    I enjoyed the article

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