An Unexpected Honor

JEWISH UNITED FUND/JEWISH FEDERATION OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO JEWISH COMMUNITY RELATIONS COUNCIL

JCRC and our Jewish communal traditions embrace – indeed, exemplify – robust diversity of thought. … Diversity of opinions on public policy issues of the day, expressed with thoughtfulness among our member organizations, is a cornerstone of our work. The very manner in which we engage one another reflects our values and advances our purposes. As Jews in America, we are blessed with…the right to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square. …

With growing concern, we have seen some members of our Jewish community – from across the political spectrum – engage in discourse in ways that both reflect sharp national divisions and foster Jewish communal ones. The views… of others with different opinions… are too often treated in ways that erode decency, civility and respect, and too often the attacks become personal.

We have seen disrespectful behaviors take place at communal events, online and in interpersonal discussions. Sometimes these expressions have become verbally aggressive and menacing. … The results of such encounters are… an affront to our Jewish values

Always, but especially during election seasons, JCRC calls upon our community to exemplify the noble Jewish ideal of derech eretz (common decency). We will not allow our arguments to devolve into sinat chinam, or causeless hatred. Instead, we will respect the majority and minority opinions in our community … recognizing that we can learn from each other. Individually and collectively, when faced with violations of basic communal norms, we must not stand idly by. Our aspirations and work are noble. How we pursue them must be too. (Emphasis added.)

I received this virtuous statement a week before the election in which over 85 percent of non-Orthodox Jews would vote Democratic, believing that Hillary was a shoo-in for the forty-fifth president of the United States. The JCRC statement’s sincere tone suggests that regardless of who won the election, its lofty words would prevail – lofty words with which I agree, often as a lonely minority opinion at the JCRC. Yet in the Torah portion Kedoshim it is written, “You shall not hate your (Jewish) brother in your heart; you shall rebuke him and do not bear a sin because of him.” (Lev. 19:17)

When I showed the JCRC statement to someone familiar with the JCRC, the person laughed and quipped, “Why didn’t they just address it to ‘Dear Jack’!” Those in the majority have typically taken umbrage at my minority opinion no matter how solid its basis in reality. In a sea of intransigent liberals, my clear logic has often been at odds with the overwhelmingly biased majority.

A bit of background: Four years ago, after the second election of President Obama, I posed a simple, non-argumentative question at a number of Jewish organizational venues, including the JCRC:

This Jewish organization claims to be pro-Israel. When Obama was first up for election, his approval rating in Israel was 8 percent, while 78 percent of American Jews voted for him. After his second election, when his animosity toward Israel and his seemingly pro-PLO attitude are glaringly obvious and his approval rating in Israel is at 12 percent, 69 percent of Americanized Jews voted for him. How can the American Jewish community, which you represent, claim to be pro-Israel when you are so dismissive of Israel’s concerns when you go into the voting booth? Perhaps you might want to re-think your philosophy!

Needless to say, my question didn’t go over very well, judging from anyone who could grab a microphone. The attacks were overt. Since my facts were unassailable, I asked for a substantive answer, which I never received. If you took the Orthodox out of the numbers, the percentage of non-Orthodox Jews voting for Obama was probably closer to 85 percent. Funny how asking such an obvious question can make liberals so unhappy. A friend called from Washington, D.C. after the recent election and said he had gone to services at his Conservative synagogue on Shabbat “and it was like sitting shiva!” I understand; and that is why I smiled when I read the JCRC’s beautifully written missive “urging discourse be guided by derech eretz, common decency.”

I don’t believe the person(s) who wrote this statement had the slightest thought of the possibility of a Trump victory on November 8, not unlike the Cubs being picked back in April to win the World Series. Hillary Clinton was about to become the next president of the United States, lies and all, and the Jewish communal organizations were behind her 400,000 percent – which was the 400,000 dollars the Jewish Federation of Chicago gave to Clinton, according to her donors list, for two 20-minute speeches and a few minutes of glad-handing. What pearls of wisdom she must have imparted for that tidy sum! I didn’t see the Federation giving any money to Trump. So much for “respecting the majority and minority opinions.” Imagine what that $400,000 could have accomplished in Jewish education or social services! If they would’ve waited they probably could have got a better deal. I realized long ago that derech eretz is in the mind of the beholder or the check writers who demand fealty to their philosophies. But falling in line has never been the Jewish way. Otherwise we all would have converted to the majority religion and saved a lot of bloodshed.

Yes, derech eretz is subjective, determined always by those who have a bully pulpit. I thought of all those non-Orthodox rabbis who reportedly gave inspired High Holy Day sermons laced with anti-Trump references. So often when it comes to Christians, the doctrine of separation of church and state is invoked, but I guess that’s only when convenient. And I thought back to a Conservative rabbi of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood who punctuated his Shabbat sermon from his pulpit by calling Trump a demagogue, along with other standard liberal talking points– a rather glaring lapse in “derech eretz” that shocked many in the pews. Yes, President-elect Trump has said a few things that may have rankled the delicate sensitivities of many in our community. What’s confusing is the support in our community for the person who set up a private computer server to evade public scrutiny and the obvious conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the Office of Secretary of State, and then lying about over 30,000 disappearing emails regarding “her daughter’s wedding” (which was paid for by the Clinton Foundation). Thank you, WiliLeaks. I have asked Jewish lawyers – litigators, no less – what they would do if during discovery they found that a defendant had intentionally destroyed evidence after receiving a subpoena to produce all documents. But Jewish lawyers are adept at dancing when it comes to their own predisposition. Even after the WikiLeaks came out, attention seemed always to be deflected to “he stole the emails,” rather than their content. John Podesta, Sidney Blumenthal, Huma Abedin, Hillary’s maid, “Carlos Danger” (a.k.a. Anthony Weiner), and who knows who else … As her incompetence continued to compromise national security, it was more important to “stay on message.” It’s still too early to tell how our Jewish community will deal with the Trump victory. The Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”

I never thought I would quote Michael Moore, but he got it right this time:

Donald Trump … stood there in front of Ford Motor executives, and said, “If you close these factories … in Detroit and build them in Mexico, I’m going to put a 35 percent tariff on those cars when you send them back, and nobody is going to buy them.” It was an amazing thing to see. No politician… had ever said anything like that to these executives. [Ford subsequently cancelled the move after Trump’s victory.] And it was music to the ears of people in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the Brexit states. … He’s saying these things to people who are hurting. And it’s why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff, who used to be part of what was called the middle class, loves Trump. He is the human Molotov cocktail they’ve been waiting for. The human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives… And on Nov. 8, Election Day, although they’ve lost their jobs, although they’ve been foreclosed on by the bank, next came the divorce and now the wife and kids are gone, the car’s been repo’d, they haven’t had a real vacation in years, they’re stuck with the sh–ty Obamacare bronze plan. … They’ve essentially lost everything they had, except the one thing that doesn’t cost them a cent and is guaranteed to them by the American Constitution: the right to vote. (Michael Moore in Trumpland)

But my old friend from the JCRC reminded me of something equally memorable. After Oslo was signed, the overwhelming majority of JCRC organizations, blinded in ecstasy, believed the fairy dust of peace had been sprinkled on Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and that overnight, by signing a worthless piece of paper on the White House lawn, Arafat had finally put a flower in his keffiyeh. But problems surfaced soon thereafter. In Afula, on April 7, 1994, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus, killing eight. On April 14, another suicide bomber slaughtered five. And on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, another twenty-two. Jews in Israel were being slaughtered and Rabin and Peres, not wanting to look like freiers (“suckers” in Israeli parlance), appeared to close their eyes to the carnage, obscenely calling these dead Jews “sacrifices for peace.” At each JCRC meeting I would bring up the obvious, and the head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Ira Youdovin, would react in a “less than derech eretz” manner, calling me out as “an enemy of peace.” This went on for years, and often our heated exchanges were the only thing that kept people from falling asleep. Jews in Israel were being blown up on buses, in marketplaces, at pizza parlors, yet for some reason dead Jews didn’t seem to sink in. President Bill Clinton could do no wrong in the eyes of his loyal devotees of the JCRC (until the “blue dress” surfaced). Despite Arafat’s obvious incitement and leadership role in the carnage, it was I who wore the honor as “the enemy of peace.” As the murder rate climbed, so did the intensity of our discourse. Voices were raised, and I received several calls from the designated JCRC consiglieri to tone it down—or else.

In 2001, as the second intifada got underway, one afternoon Rabbi Youdovin called to say he’d be giving the Dvar Torah the next day at the JCRC meeting and hoped I would be there. I said I would. Taking the podium, he paused,“Before I give the Dvar Torah today, I want to take a moment to apologize to Jack Berger for things I’ve said over the past years. Jack was right about Oslo and the peace process, and many of us, including myself, were wrong. We were wrong about the intentions of Yasser Arafat and wrong not to listen when Jack asked us to see the reality. Too many Jews in Israel have been slaughtered, and I, for one, am apologizing for what I had hoped would lead to peace and clearly has not.” A bit taken aback, I nodded in acceptance.

Well, good luck, Mr. President-elect. Your task is daunting, in the wake of the incompetency of your predecessor. Hopefully, the Democrats and their “presstitutes” won’t get in your way. And thank you, JCRC, for reminding the more liberal in our community of the importance of derech eretz. Judging from the pro-Hillary riots in the streets, others may be in need of reminding as well.

Shabbat Shalom, 12/16/2016 Jack “Yehoshua ” Berger

* Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com*

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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