September 24, 2008
Rosh Hashanah means frank talk with family, not just apples and honey
I'm happy to share this post from guest blogger Alissa Bader:
The year 5769 is nearly upon us -- the time for apples and honey, new Hebrew calendars, and round challahs in the supermarket.
It's a time for New Year's cards in the mail and frantically getting all of your work done in your day job in hopes of getting to shul on time. And it's a time of year, like it or not, when you will inevitably wind up connecting with the family again.
This year, it can be tough and sometimes uncomfortable.
It's an election year. And American Judaism is split into two camps these days: those who are for Obama, and those who are not.
Much has been written already about the political beliefs of our now-elderly relatives, many of whom are retirees in Florida. These are the ones who receive (and forward to us) all of the smear e-mails, who listen for hours-on-end to right-wing AM talk radio. The ones who still vehemently insist that Obama is a Muslim, that he's friends with terrorists, that he will in no way be an ally to Israel.
These feelings are so deep-set, so visceral, that bringing them up in conversation can lead to some . . .well, strong reactions.
My Uncle Isaac, in particular, is a great example. A recent conversation I had with became especially animated when we discussed of Obama's acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium.
He exclaimed: "The speech was just the same as Hitler speaking at Nuremberg!" And to this I could only respond that I was at Obama's speech (at the stadium) and I also saw Triumph of the Will (on a DVD), and the only similarities I saw were . . .well, actually none, come to think of it.
So rather than talk about trying to disprove various rumors and smear campaigns and trying to follow them up with facts, let's think for a moment about what makes some family members act the way that they do towards Obama.
I'll tell you part of what I think it is, quite bluntly: race. The term "schvartza" invariably comes up when I mention Obama to anyone of a certain age in my family. Further (again anecdotal) evidence shows that this term comes up whenever similar conversations with other friend's relatives.
Now this reaction? I blame it on a certain nasty part of the first-generation, turn-of-the-last-century, Eastern-European immigrant mindset that still has a meaning in some circles.
It's a set of thoughts, such as a flinch of horror when you see someone with darker skin also reaching into the pickle barrel. When you find yourself shouting "I won't let you schvartzas touch me!" to your home health aide, who happens to be from Trinidad. When you think that that certain words really aren't that harmful to others . . . but then you'll never find yourself saying them out loud in most company in certain neighborhoods.
I have particular contempt for the for the Republican Jewish Coalition (and no, I am not going to gratify them by posting a link to them here) because the RJC is exploiting my elderly relatives' fears.
They're the ones who've been pushing this racist agenda (and yes, depressing as it is to many of us in younger generations, racism is still there, in many of our families). They've also, more despicably, pushed the fear that can ultimately be summed up in two words: "No Israel!"
And to a generation where many saw attempted extermination up close and personal, followed by the founding of a new country, characterizing as renewal . . . the words, "No Israel!" are absolutely terrifying.
So no matter that the very observant Florida congressman, Robert Wexler, endorses Obama. No matter that the head of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, has said that both McCain and Obama would be good for Israel. No matter. The fear relentlessly encouraged by the RJC has fed the ugliness that unfortunately exists in many of our families. Yes, it's right up there in front of us now, right out in the open.
And now, it's our job to overcome it -- particularly during the High Holy Days, a time of renewal, a time when us Jews are strongly encouraged to start over with a clean slate.
It's a perfect time for us to talk with our relatives, and understand them (interesting conversational asides notwithstanding).
Then we can share the direction our hopes and hearts are taking us, and invite them along.
-- Alissa Bader
Alissa Bader lives in Denver, Colorado, and is an Obama supporter. Her uncle, who lives around Ft. Lauderdale, is not