We have an election coming up in just a few weeks in which President Obama’s legacy is at stake. Jews, who tend to vote in large numbers, could help tip the balance crucial states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.
Strangely, Obama has scheduled for late Monday morning what the White House is calling “a conference call with rabbis for Rosh Hashanah.”
Now, what could that be about? Obama is not doing much in the way of policy anymore. Relations with Israel are kind of on hold, although there is talk Obama could back a UN resolution declaring Israel an “occupier” of Palestinian lands, and it’s possible Obama wants to talk to them about that. But he would never make such a declaration before the elections, and it’s not Obama’s style to consult too much about his decisions, particularly with parties that will be adversely affected.
What makes sense is a suggestion by one of our readers, Sadie, that he will be providing them with a few talking points for their sermons. That he hopes to inject some politics into the synagogue this holiday season to ensure Jews back Hillary in November.
This could be done subtly. Since my fellow Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats, all he needs to do is ask the rabbis to talk about the civic duty of everyone to engage in the process by voting, even if they aren’t thrilled with the choices. One of Democrats’ most paralyzing fears is that their people, disgusted with the election, simply won’t show up to vote. So a pro-Democratic message from the Jewish pulpit need only be couched as a patriotic call to participate in democracy.
The rabbis will be very receptive to this message. I’ve been a member of both Conservative — a term referring to religious, and not political practices — and Reform temples, and if I’ve ever heard a sermon that had a politically conservative theme to it, I can’t remember it. But I’ve heard plenty that sounded liberal, even if the rabbi might have just thought they were expounding on “social justice” or other themes everyone — of course! — would agree with.
Orthodox Jews tend to be less liberal, but I don’t know what Orthodox rabbis talk about.
Christians may not understand the power of the Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur sermon, but certainly, Obama’s Jewish aides do. Jews who belong to Reform and even Conservative temples tend to be pretty secular and not attend weekly Shabbat services. But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, attendance at synagogue goes up exponentially. Everyone, it seems, feels the need to at least affirm their religion once a year.
And this year, whether they know it or not, they may be getting a message from Obama.
Obama is not above a little High Holy Day politics. In his Rosh Hashanah greeting last year, he stealthily dropped an anti-GOP message. Obama noted that we are obligated to atone for past sins, a theme of the holidays. But with Trump suddenly a threat in the GOP primaries, advocating a wall with Mexico — and his rivals also taking a hard line on illegal immigration — Obama threw in that we are required to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and to love the stranger, and treat him as we would want to be treated.”