Mr. Obama Goes to AIPAC

Shavuot was never a big-deal holiday in my family—it was pretty much the Festival of the Cheese Blintz. It’s only been in more recent years that I’ve learned about the lovely theological bases for this celebration, and worked towards understanding the sublime joy of receiving the Torah.

I received a number of great Shavuot-related press releases with excellent study suggestions from that mass of organizations we call the progressive Jewish front. I guess between that and my recent trip to San Francisco (my first), I feel that the rise of these progressive Jewish organizations (or at least what looks like a rise from where I’m sitting) really shows how we as Jewish communities are reshaping ourselves. It’s pretty awesome to watch, no?

Of course, we’re not The Establishment just yet. Fairly strong reminders of this were part of Obama’s recent speech to AIPAC–like the many attempts to address the out-of-control email rumor mill that would have you believe that Senator and presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama is a radical Muslim fundamentalist, that he wants to normalize relations with Iran, that he hates Israel. These rumors strike me, and may strike you, as totally ridiculous, but unfortunately, there are people out there who hate Obama for just these “reasons.” The speech, even a bit too hawkish for me, certainly aligned Obama with Israel, and I wondered how his much-lauded young, liberal base was going to deal. But he also did something brilliant—he reframed the question of Jewish/black relations, and he recast the history of Jewish progressivism.

I think if anything, Jews come off as too good in Obama’s narrative, but given that he’s willing to go to AIPAC to talk about Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney, he can pretty much call it like he sees it. And he sees, or understands the possible gains to seeing, a world in which progressive Jewish values are happily fulfilled, in which we support Israel both by cheering its success but also by admitting to and learning from our failures. And in which we can be reminded of our own radical pasts.

Barack Obama is conceiving of American-Israeli political relations and Jewish-American identity in a new way, and it will be a welcome change. History, I’m learning slowly, is always happening. And I think Obama’s got the right idea. I expected to be unmoved by those speeches (it’s AIPAC!), but in light of the holiday that kicks off a vital part of our history, it was wonderful to hear a Democrat talk about the glory days
of Black-Jewish relations. Let’s get back to that—let’s live up to this vision of righteousness I heard so much about. Let’s talk about how
Jewish values and liberal values fit so well, and let’s keep staying up learning together, whenever we can.

–Mel Weiss

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