Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama the Prophet



I was an active supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, participating in various Jewish Americans for Obama groups and in Rabbis for Obama. Along with my son, some of his friends, and a Jewish Week reporter who is also a personal friend, we even went up to Harlem to celebrate Obama's victory on election night(http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a13907/News/New_York.html).

As it turned out, there was nothing particularly unique about being a Jewish supporter of Obama (OK, maybe we were a little unique in celebrating in the streets of Harlem!). After all, exit polls showed that 78% of Jews voted for Obama.

A case could be made that this level of support for Obama among the Jewish electorate was simply consistent with a strong Jewish Democratic voting tradition. Yet, this time felt different. For many of us, pulling the lever for Obama and working in advance of the election felt more personal, more like something we did with unusual passion; even a reflection of who we are as Jews. What was it about Obama that made us feel that way?


I would suggest that there was something about Obama's message that resonated deeply within the Jewish psyche in a way that was different from any other recent political candidate. It was actually a series of articles and websites comparing Obama to Jesus that led me to this conclusion. Even the Jewish congressman Steve Cohen, noted the Obama/Jesus comparison (http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/09/10/tennessee-rep-compares-obama-to-jesus-suggests-palin-is-pilate/). And I totally failed in most cases to recognize when it was Obama's words and when it was Jesus' words in the online Is it Jesus or is it Barack Obama? quiz (http://radaronline.com/quiz/2008/03/jesus_or_barack_obama_quiz_01.php).

But let's be honest, Jesus was a Jewish phenomenon. Before there was Jesus, there were biblical Jewish prophets. In ancient Israel, there was a concept of separation of powers between the king (as executive branch), the priest (religious functionary) and prophet (religious visionary and conscience).

In listening to the campaign rhetoric, Senator John Mc Cain, a great American, seemed like the king model; a good administrator and warrior, but a politician who was not beyond compromising out his ideals in battle. Senator Joe Biden also sounded rather king-like. [And I couldn't figure out any biblical metaphor that would adequately describe Governor Sarah Palin, in spite of her ties to religion.]

But for me as a Jew, Obama sounded like the voice of a prophet. There was a sense that he had a vision in mind that was far more impressive and compelling than the specific policies that he was suggesting. The vision, accompanied by a perception that this is a man of tremendous personal integrity sounded like an echo of Isaiah / Hosea / Amos to me.

Don't get me wrong. President-elect Obama is a brilliant campaigner and political activist. And, like many heads of state before him, dating back to the middle ages, one of his first actions was putting a smart, tough Jew (Rahm Emanuel) next to him.

But what won me over was my deep feeling that, after a deeply disturbing period of American history, it was time to put visionary moral leadership back into the White House.
My prayers and wishes are with him and with the very impressive team with which he has already surrounded himself. I will be joining in the prayer for the American government that we say each week with special feelings as the future unfolds.