Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

An Immodest Proposal

Embed from Getty Images

Biden. Trump. Olmert. Barak. At long last, as illustrated in the following anecdote, the Jewish view of history is proven correct.

I believe that this story was told about Rabbi Kaminetsky, z”tl, but it may have been about some other Torah luminary who, at an advanced age, was taking a plane trip with his extended family. I’m sorry if I have some of the details wrong.

He was seated in first class, and some of his grandchildren were in the back. From time to time, one of the grandchildren would visit to see if he needed anything–tea? His feet covered with a blanket? A trip to the facilities? His pillow fluffed under his head? A sefer retrieved from the bin?

His seatmate watched in astonishment. Eventually, he said, “I have never seen such solicitude. When they take the trouble to notice me, my grandchildren are usually polite to me, but they don’t treat me with such respect and reverence. How do you account for this behavior?”

The Rabbi responded, “I’m really not certain, but here’s one possibility: You believe that we descended from apes, that generation after generation we are constantly improving by adapting to our environment, that our greater scientific knowledge makes us increasingly better. Therefore, your grandchildren view you as a relic of diminished value and themselves as the center of an ever-improving universe. When the future is all, and you represent the future, you might get a bit dismissive of the past and an exaggerated respect for the present.

“We, on the other hand, believe that we were created in the image of God and that as the generations advanced through time, they diminished in moral quality. We look back to our ancestors with pride and reverence and know that we are but dim reflections of their knowledge, holiness, and glory. So my grandchildren see me as someone who both symbolizes and embodies the wisdom and moral grandeur of the past. And they treat me accordingly.”

I think of that story when I am forced to contemplate Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Avigdor Lieberman, Ben-Gvir and the whole array of our recent and present midget leaders. (I am omitting Bibi because God knows the man has enough problems.)

I find that I can both illustrate and prove my argument simply by listing names, without further commentary.

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Barack Obama.

Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, Thurgood Marshall.

Ibram X. Kendi, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Al Sharpton.

Ben-Gurion, Weitzman, Golda, Sharett, Shazar, Eban, Begin.

Barak, Olmert, Lieberman, Lapid, Smotrich, Ben-Gvir.

The insufficiency and, in some cases, moral vacancy of the contemporary bunch make it ludicrously easy to dismiss them as unfit leaders. Just to list the names is to make the argument. This is not to suggest that they are necessarily bad people. They just seem not to be of the caliber of the giants who preceded them.

Putting aside, for the moment, the Jewish view that the successive generations are successively inferior, what is our shortcoming that we have empowered these leaders? Are we so defective that we can produce only defective leaders? Is this really the best that we can do? Is it what we deserve, God forbid? If so, then only God can save us.

Has the noble desire to serve the public been driven out of the minds and hearts of good, competent, trustworthy people, leaving us with those empty shells who crave only power and attention and personal gain, and offer us a lack of commitment, integrity, and ability in return?

And worst of all, are we not ourselves diminished by having these empty vessels as leaders? What does it mean for us when both of the two major candidates for the office of President of the United States are viewed unfavorably by 60% of the populace, and we consider that acceptable? When many of us trust none of the minority parties in the Knesset, who then coalesce their unpopularity into a government with a melange of inconsistent, and sometimes repellent, policies?

Are we to maintain our self-respect and aspirations for the future when–every single election–we must hold our noses and vote for the one who disgusts us the least? When we choose between two undereducated, moral blanks, neither of whom has ever maintained a single thought of which they were not the focal point? When confidence in our legislators is in single digits, what results can and do we expect? Or deserve?

Forget how frail, infirm, old and feeble the Presidential candidates are; look how devoid they are of the skills and values we should hold dear.

How can we fix it? Can it be fixed?


Of course.



Over the past few decades, I have witnessed and, in some limited capacity or another, participated in all sorts of transactions involving parties with various levels of sophistication, integrity, and decency. I learned that there are few problems that are not susceptible to reasonable solutions if people are willing to compromise, or if compromise may be forced upon them.

For example, I am reasonably certain that if you assembled 30 interested, intelligent, informed, motivated people, possessed of diverse opinions but willing to listen and accommodate the opinions and desires of others, within a month, they could come up with a workable proposal that would both (i) limit the anti-democratic excesses of an unelected judiciary with malleable guidelines and (ii) minimize the anti-democratic risks of a slim legislative majority. This is not hubris. It would not be that difficult for a group of honest brokers with legal, academic, professional, and civil service backgrounds to come up with reasonable solutions to the judicial reform issue that would address every concern and leave no side with all that it wants or less than it needs. Accept it–dozens of such proposals have been published in these pages and others.

Finding solutions is not the problem. The problem is that we are led by people who are blinded by ideology or meanness or stupidity or cupidity, who believe that it is in their political self-interest not to find a middle ground, and informed by ideologues who advance their opinions with vituperation and blinkered perspectives. Each of us has opinions, but we each also have belly buttons; they are of limited, if any, interest to anyone else and should not be dwelled upon. Case in point: for how many decades has Thomas Friedman been spouting the same discredited, unacceptable proposal?

When a war erupts, could a volunteer civilian force mount cooperative efforts to care for displaced people and provide for the needs of reserve soldiers and their families? Could volunteers offer expertise and organization without aspiring to political position? Could there be a rational, fair way to handle the border in the United States? Is there a way to equitably address both the religious and secular communities in a society? Could we address the real issues of sexual dysphoria without trampling on the rights of women or other interested constituencies? Is there a way to approach race without vituperation and malice toward any group?

I’m pretty sure that the answer is yes once you accept the reality that the zealots on both sides will never be satisfied. But there is a huge majority in the middle that wants and would welcome peaceful, reasonable accommodation and progress.

Here’s a thought: Start with a cadre of highly-motivated, highly trained, well-educated people with no long-term aspirations to wielding power. Establish a blue-ribbon nominating committee charged with locating and selecting these people from among people who express themselves willing and able to help, and have no disqualifying attributes. Choose among those as one might choose a jury, with partisans of all stripes allowed to have a say, but not a veto, and try to eliminate all extreme positions from final decision-making authority. Include the newly retired and make sure that there are term limits. Treat everyone and all viewpoints with respect, but examine everything critically and be guided by principles of fairness and inclusion. Circulate all proposals for public comments and explain clearly how the final product was developed.

Then let our elected leaders see if they can coalesce behind the proposals, or tweak them in such a way that consensus or near-consensus is achieved

And if that is not possible, then we need to find a way to send a message to our political classes. We need to demand that they work together to find solutions, that they be prepared to compromise, that they come back with policies that are designed to be acceptable to a majority, even while they do not grant total victory to any minority. And we need to let them know that if they won’t do it, we will find a way to do it ourselves. And then we need to find a way.

Maybe a “None of the Above” party, so we can start over.

If I weren’t so tired, I’d do it myself.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.