September 30, 2004
Look Beyond Israel
As election day gets closer, I'm beginning to wonder how many of us will vote on a single issue-our perception of how President Bush and Sen. John Kerry will stand up for Israel.
I'm using the word perception because each man has taken just about the same position. But perception is important. A candidate is often judged on how he delivers a message and if he messes up the delivery, he loses votes.
Personally, I think society is too complicated to spend your vote on how you feel about just one issue -- whether it's Israel, abortion or gay rights -- unless, of course, the candidate spouted the peace-at-any-cost, soft-on-the-Palestinians rhetoric that, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean the end of Israel.
But Bush and Kerry are not only in the same ballpark on Israel, they are in the same seat. Shouldn't their stands on other issues also be considered when Jewish voters make their choices? Or is there only one issue -- or a perceived issue -- for a Jew?
I've been thinking about this since starting to write columns about the election, a thought process intensified recently by an e-mail from a reader and by my musings during High Holiday Services.
"I am a one-issue voter," Bat-Sheva Ostrow wrote. "I am not happy with Kerry. I would never vote for Bush, but if Kerry does not convince me that he will be Israel's best friend, I will not vote."
During the holidays, I attended the Hillel service at UCLA, conducted by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. The rabbi, who is the Hillel director, is definitely not a single-issue guy. Life to him is full of complexities and his traditional service is both a devotional experience and an intellectual challenge. He and some of his congregants engage in dialogue between prayers over the meaning of the service. This fits in well with the large number of students present and for the youthful energy they bring with them.
I met Seidler-Feller a year ago when I went to Hillel in search of material for my column. It was late in the day and I had expected a short conversation with a man I knew was busy. But we chatted for an hour or so and I found myself sharing my feelings about Judaism and life.
When I left, I wondered why I was telling all this to the rabbi. I was supposed to be interviewing him. But he's the kind of person who encourages a visitor to talk, and to think.
Thinking was one of his subjects over the High Holidays. He wondered why there were no good Jewish bookstores in Los Angeles. What was happening to Jewish intellectual life? What is happening to a community renowned for the breadth of its involvement in the religious, intellectual, cultural and political life of the nation?
Those are the subjects covered in a book he gave me after I spoke to a Hillel fundraiser, "The Jews In America: A Treasury of Art and Literature" by Abraham J. Karp (Hugh Lauter Levin, 1994), a beautiful collection of art and text that is a testimony to the range of Jewish thought as we came to terms with our lives in the United States.
Some of the people, places and experiences in the book include Jewish journalists, artists, rabbis, the rich and poor, Einstein and Jolson, crowded Hester Street in New York in the early 1880s, and four families picnicking with the rabbi in Helena, Mont., in 1890. Think of the contributions to society that came from lives so varied.
Such a rich and complex history makes me wonder why Jews would consider the simplistic course of voting solely on the matter of Israel.
There are many other issues that will affect our lives, where there is a clear choice between Bush and Kerry.
Iraq is the most important. I know, Bush's supporters in the Jewish community relate the war to Israel, saying it is safer now since Saddam Hussein has been removed from power. If that reasoning is followed to the ultimate conclusion, as advocated by the neoconservatives, then we'll have an endless road to more Mideast wars.
Next stop Tehran. Criticizing the president's policies in the post-invasion period doesn't mean selling out Israel.
What about health care? Doesn't anyone care about that? There are wide differences between Bush and Kerry on that issue, certainly enough to influence a vote -- as my dad was persuaded when he cast his first Democratic vote after a lifetime of Republicanism because John F. Kennedy favored Medicare.
And what about the future of Medicare? Those of us who qualify for the early bird special are interested in that. The same goes for the rest of Social Security. And the tax cuts and deficits that may hurt future generations. These aren't strictly Jewish issues, except they affect all of us.
There are many ingredients that will go into my vote. Israel will be one. I'd never vote for anyone who will sell out Israel. Nor would I vote for anyone who would sell out Medicare or refuse to deal with the increased cost of health insurance. This is not a single-issue election.
Bill Boyarsky's column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.