It's been two and a half weeks since my last post. During that period, I was pre-occupied with my father's final days and death, followed by his shiva, the traditional seven-day mourning period. And now I say kaddish in shul/synagogue three times a day. So it has been hard to think of anything else.
I try to keep my personal life and my blogging life separate. But last year I could not resist blogging about my father's support of Obama during the primary battles with Hillary here. Suffering from depression, he was thrilled when Obama took time out from a busy campaign schedule to inscribe for him one of his books, with a message of encouragement. Throughout his illness, until he was too far gone for coherent conversation, Dad asked me how Obama was doing.
How does one explain this 94 year-old's passionate support? My brother summed it up in his eulogy:
Dad, you were not only liberal with your time and energies for your children, grand children and great grandchildren and for the greater communities to which you belonged; you were an old-fashioned Jewish liberal, an FDR or Kennedy liberal. This commitment to liberalism accompanied you throughout your life and has been embraced by your children and grandchildren. The only republicans you ever supported were those you thought were sufficiently liberal. And well into your nineties, while a few members of our family were still supporting Hillary, you jumped onto the Obama bandwagon, having been impressed by Obama's intelligence and core values, and being excited by the prospect of an African-American president. You showed how one can be a loyal and proud member of one's community while at the same time, defending the rights of other communities.
Even now I find it difficult to write about my father, who contributed so much to his family, his community (Jewish and non-Jewish), and to his religion.
Last Shabbat, the haftarah (the portion from the Prophets read weekly in the synagogue) was from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 62. It was the last of the seven "consolation" haftarot that mark the period from Tisha B'Av to Rosh Hashanah. That consolation is the rebuilding of Jerusalem to its former glory. And yet Isaiah does not revel in the restoration of political sovereignty or the building of the Temple, or even the ingathering of exiles. No, this is how he begins…
For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace,
And for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
And her salvation as a lamp that burns.
Until Jerusalem's righteousness, her Zedek, goes forth as brightness, her salvation will not be effected. And until that day, the prophet will not remain silent. Jerusalem will be redeemed not by armies, not by crazies, not by sacrifices, but by justice and righteousness– Ziyyon be-mishpat tipadeh ve-shaveha bi-tzdekah. Zion will be redeemed through justice and its returnees through righteousness. (Isaiah 1.27) Without justice and righteousness Jerusalem is only of historical interest, a quaint little Williamsburg (New York or Virginia, take your pick.) Without justice and righteousness there is nothing Jewish or holy about Jerusalem.
My Dad loved the State of Israel, and during the 1973 war he served as the chairman of the Baltimore Jewish Federation's Israel Emergency Campaign. He supported Israel without being a card-carrying Zionist, and he visited Israel on numerous occasions. But I cannot say that Israel was central to his life the way the pursuit of justice was. It was a question of priorities. Israel's actions against the Palestinians disappointed him and confused him. He never spoke publicly against Israel, but he was disturbed all the same. And he was a fervent believer in pursuing a just peace.
The generation of the old-fashioned Jewish liberal is fading fast. Maybe organizations like J-Street can rekindle the flame for a new generation.
We need such a flame in these dark ages.