Religion & Beliefs

An Open Letter to the Jewish Community in the Ten Days of Repentance 5769

My fellow American Jews, I am a member of Rabbis for Obama, along with 550 colleagues from all movements of Judaism. In this sacred season of repentance, I would like to share my reflections on some powerful messages from our … Read More

By / October 8, 2008

My fellow American Jews,

I am a member of Rabbis for Obama, along with 550 colleagues from all movements of Judaism. In this sacred season of repentance, I would like to share my reflections on some powerful messages from our tradition and their implications for the fateful choices we face.

Arise from your slumber and rouse yourselves from your lethargy…" (Maimonides)

In hearing the blast of the Shofar, we have an opportunity to wake up to the grave challenges our nation faces, and to forge a path based on our Jewish values of tzedek (justice), hesed (loving-kindness), and shalom (peace).

I believe that Senator Obama offers us a chance to build bridges across the divides of race, religion, class and country of origin. In this moment of economic turmoil and suffering, he calls on us to move beyond self-interest to extend opportunity across our society to "lift up the fallen" through lifelong education, accessible healthcare, and through involvement in community service. He urges us to reinforce the civil rights and liberties upon which our safety, and that of all of the vulnerable people in our society, depends.

I hope we will hear in the call of the Shofar an invitation to this path toward a repaired society and nation, as Senator Obama said in his historic Rosh Hashanah conference call with 900 Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis, "[this is]… a time to recommit to the serious work of Tikkun Olam, of mending the world."

"For the sin we have committed…in impurity of lips" (Machzor).

Among the sins we will recount in our Yom Kippur confessional prayers is this one: "for the sin we have committed against you in impurity of lips (b’tumat sfataim)."

Far too often, I hear good Jewish people repeating slurs and calumnies without the slightest basis in truth. My 9 year-old son came home from his Jewish day school saying, "Barack Obama hates Israel." (The facts: Senator Obama’s Senate voting record is rated 100% on Israel by AIPAC, and he has a long and deep partnership with the Jewish community. He has repeatedly stated that "Israel’s security is sacrosanct," and that Iran must absolutely not be allowed to threaten Israel with nuclear weapons). I have heard older Jews say that they "know" that Senator Obama is a Muslim (There’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, but, for the record, Senator Obama is a committed Christian.)

Our tradition teaches us that lashon ha-ra, evil speech, kills three: the one who speaks, the one who listens, and the one about whom the untruths are told. We Jews of all people know the toxic effect of slurs based in racism, ignorance or xenophobia. As we turn in repentance, I hope we will start by refusing to listen to or repeating distorted claims about Senator Obama or any other candidate, and by asking people repeating them to refrain from this disgraceful behavior. No matter how insecure we feel, we must redouble our efforts to make critical decisions on facts, not fear.

"Hope in the Eternal, be strong and God will give your heart courage, hope in the Eternal" (Psalm 27).

The penitential Psalm, which we recite each time we pray during these days of repentance, calls us to ground our existence in hope. In this uncertain time, it is easy to succumb to fear, and to narrow our vision, or even to abandon our most fundamental values.

I hope you will heed Senator Obama’s call, not only to hope for, but to realize, the hope for a society of liberty, opportunity, mutual responsibility and justice. With hope grounded in faith, and with a leader of vision and substance, wisdom and humility, our country can live up to its shining promise.

G’mar hatimah tovah, may we all be inscribed a year of sustenance, goodness and peace.

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman Vice-Chair, Rabbis for Obama

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