Omarosa and Stephen. Where to begin? Before Omarosa was bit by the celebrity bug on “The Apprentice” she was likely an opportunist-in-the-making. If you recall her stint on the show, she was unliked by her teammates and eager to please the boss. When she was fired it didn’t dampen her ambition; it just forced her to find another way back to the proverbial board table.
She did. While America thought it heard the last of her as she went down the Apprentice elevator, she was actually on her way up the driveway to join the boss in the White House. Unlike the television show, she was hired by the administration to do a real job that was supposed to make a real difference. It matters little what the job and her title were, because they mattered little to her, too. A good opportunist like her won’t produce much, but she’ll be sure that her name is always out front, and, if possible, in the press. From “Meet the Press” to “Today”, Omarosa was there and everywhere else space opened up for more prurient news from the White House.
An opportunist like her will fade from the news-cycle soon, but she’ll find another way back before too long. Unfortunately for her, and for us, her time will likely be spent unproductively. Ultimately, her energy will be misspent at her own expense and misfortune. I wish her the very best but far away from television and the serious business of our government-at-work.
Stephen Miller is another matter. He’s not just a misguided “immigration hypocrite” as his uncle described him in a widely distributed and read article published in Politico.com, he’s Jewish! Mr. Miller falls into a category of other Jewish figureheads in positions of authority and power who failed to resemble anything one might have learned, gleaned, or understood from a Jewish upbringing. Surely, his uncle wasn’t the only one in the family with a keen understanding of the family’s past and its pain before arriving on these shores. The immigrant story isn’t unfamiliar to Americans, and Jewish immigration is the subject of early lessons beginning in Jewish religious school classes. Immigration is about being driven from one place to another. Jews were driven for centuries and between 1880 and 1914, nearly 2 million Jews felt driven to America and its promise.
Miller ignores more than his own history and his own roots. He denies the origins of all Americans as immigrants who dislocated Native Americans from the land they tended for ages in order for us to be at home here. Has Miller read Abraham Cahan’s, “The Rise of David Levinsky” or Charles Angoff’s, “When I was a Boy in Boston” or even Herman Wouk’s “Inside, Outside”? Had he had read them before he read his daily briefings, he would have learned that even Jewish immigrants told half-truths at Ellis Island, but also the unbelievable stories of desperation and hope. I strongly doubt that Miller has ever heard of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), founded in 1881, or other immigrant aid organizations that helped Jews, in particular, but also others who had nowhere else to go. They advocated for housing, provided education, and prepared newcomers for their new land. He likely knows nothing about Jacob Riis, who was a Danish immigrant, social advocate and photographer whose photographs of tenement life on the lower east side of New York City, persuaded an otherwise reluctant Congress in Washington D.C., to pass legislation for better housing and improved conditions.
Miller’s uncle is ashamed of his nephew. Shame can be a great teacher. Shame can strike a chord in one who is tone-deaf to life’s challenges and people’s suffering. It might awaken Miller to the power he really has to transform long-standing and intractable issues of immigration reform with compassion and empathy that begins in his own family’s story.
Oh, to be Stephen Miller’s rabbi at this time of year. This is the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that precedes Tishrei, the first day of which is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance. What I would like to teach him in books, diaries, movies, and personal accounts. But, alas, we are all his people and he is one of us. What role can the Jewish community play besides forwarding his uncles article on social media? It’s time to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform; it’s time to deluge Stephen Miller with our Jewish stories and his own; or maybe it’s time for some Jewish tough-guys (we have a history of them, too) to put their arms around Miller’s shoulders and show him how nice Jewish boys behave, especially when they make it all the way to the White House.
Omarosa will find her way if she’s willing to learn more about herself and the gifts she really has to offer. Stephen has found his way to the White House, but will he find his way around it? The New Year, even for him, has to be about more than apples and honey, because they are just symbols of what really is at stake. A sweet New Year depends on new deeds. Just one more thing: if you see Stephen Miller at High Holy Day services this year, make sure he’s not just moving his lips.