Wednesday, November 14, 2012


The Forward presented an intriguing post-election opinion piece:

Its author contends, correctly I think, that Jewish voters largely disregarded their leaders' position on which candidate best serves Israel's interests and instead voted for the other candidate who better reflected a position that American participation is not the exclusive province of Committees of Rich People.  Jewish exit polling in the election certainly reflects this reality politically but I think religiously and organizationally this has been a work in progress for some time.

For most of the 1980's and 1990's I read Torah at the USCJ affiliate one of the High Holy Days.  Without editorializing more than necessary, this place had its macher swoops and king makers and ad hoc self-appointed Committees of Rich people.  To get an aliyah those days you had to have enough funds and be generous in dispersing them to purchase an annual Hazakah.  What struck me as I completed the reading of each aliyah was that the Olim greeted each other warmly but if they shook my hand or the Gabbai's hand at all it was much more perfunctory.  There was no serious recognition of the effort that a competent reading entailed or the planning that the people running the make it or break it annual event that portends the congregation's fortunes each year put into it.  Rather this was an entitlement,a perk of philanthropy and the leadership it brings.  Everyone else is hired help.  There was nothing evil about those people, just that entitlement and less than ideal sensitivity to what others might think.  My wife headed a Rabbi Search Committee.  After inviting a candidate to speak to the congregation in an open forum, one of the kingmakers polled her friends, then came of over to my wife to inform her that "the money people don't like him."

We are obligated to have a President so people vote at the polls.  We are not mandated to have a shul or a Federation so people vote with their feet and checkbooks.  And thus over a generation we encounter a form of leader generated attrition.  The coin of the Jewish realm has been re-minted from talent and energy to money and loyalty.  The voters of America demonstrated that there are limits to what machers can do to impose their will.  In many elements of the Jewish world they have imposed their will for some time and continue to congratulate each other while they preside over a much less vibrant empires than they could have had.

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