'How come you Jews supported Obama?'
It is quite common to have instant reactions to momentous events, and the re-election of President Obama was a momentous event. But the reactions I am sharing with you are not instantaneous; they accumulated over the long course of the Republican primary and general election campaigns, and they reflect, I think, a perspective that illuminates issues that were called to my attention because of my position as a Federation director.
They are being written right after getting a hair cut at the Thames Barber Shop, where Louis Pica, my barber, challenged me, in front of several patrons, with a loud question: "How come you Jews supported Obama so much?"
Below is a slightly expanded version of my answer to him and the others sitting in the shop.
We are, because of our tradition, a socially responsible and progressive people. We are commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take care of our elders. Whether we pray every day, every week, or just at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that DNA is in us.
We realized that Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu were friends, but we also realized that cooperation between Israeli and American security and military forces had never been stronger. We did not believe the Romney line that "Obama threw Israel under the bus." In fact, several of us were heartened by Obama's response, in the foreign affairs debate, that he had in fact visited Israel during the first presidential campaign, but had gone to Sderot, a city besieged by Hamas missiles, and not, as Romney had, to fund-raising dinners in Jerusalem.
I told him that several wealthy Jews, who would directly feel the brunt of new taxes in their pockets because of the tax proposals of Obama, nevertheless voted for him, in part because of our values, but also in large part because of the selection of Paul Ryan as the GOP's vice presidential candidate.
For two cycles now the Republicans have nominated a vice presidential candidate who actually scared us; a person that is hard to imagine sitting in the oval office. And both times Republicans seemed to signal that their party was running not only against the current Democratic candidate, but against FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Carter, and Clinton. And against Darwin (the folks in the barber shop liked that line.)
Finally I pointed out the attitudes towards women, immigrants, and gays that were expressed in the campaign were too much for us to ignore.
I then told everyone that I grew up in a home of Rockefeller/Javits Republicans, with several evenings of political discussions every fall; and that I do yearn for a vigorous two-party system, but until that happens again I do not think many Jews will feel comfortable in a party dominated by Tea Party activists.
We then, thank God, got back to the usual sports talk that is the hallmark of the Thames Barber Shop - and I got a good hair cut.
Jerome "Jerry" Fischer is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.
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