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Barack Obama denounces controversial remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, retiring pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ.

Letters to the Editor

The Jews Who Know Him Best

Senator Barack Obama spoke to the Jewish community in Cleveland and suggested that people should check on his credentials with the Jewish community in Chicago. I did just that and this is what I found out.

I personally spoke with Rabbis, journalists, and other members of the Jewish community in Chicago that know Obama. Everyone I talked to made positive and supportive comments about Senator Obama - including Orthodox Jewish State Senator Ira Silverstein. Senator Silverstein, worked with Senator Obama for 6 years, they are close friends and shared an office suite in the Illinois State Senate. Senator Silverstein says,"Barack is a mensch. What you see is what you get. He is not a polished guy trying to pretend to be pro-Israel for political reasons. He is truly committed to supporting Israel and the Jewish people." Senator Silverstein and Senator Obama co-sponsored (among other things) an Illinois Senate Resolution pushing then "...Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yassar Arafat, to end the encouragement, support, and praise of terror attacks against Israeli civilians that emanate from areas under his direct jurisdiction."

-- Yocheved Seidman, Ithaca, New York

Cartoon courtesy of Steve Sack. © 2008.
An Anti-Semitic Church

For years most Jews did not vote for anyone who at any time even long ago belonged to a club not accepting Black people. It is time to do the same again. Obama’s church awarded a major anti-Semite an award. Venom pored out of the mouth of it’s Pastor against Israel. Yet Senator Obama still belongs to that church.

Why would any Jew today not do what we always did, not vote for Senator Obama?

-- Albert Reingewirtz, Havertown, Pennsylvania

Everyone seems to be calling for Obama to quit his church because of some remarks by his former pastor Wright (retired January).

This is hypocrisy. Obama has already repudiated these remarks to the satisfaction of the ADL and other major Jewish institutions. Is anyone calling for President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Senator Hillary Clinton to leave the United Methodist Church because they are calling for divestment from Israel? Did John F. Kennedy quit the Catholic church when his politics differed from those of the Pope?

This is America and we have the separation of church and state. The church you belong to should not be understood to dictate your politics, and this applies to Senator Obama as much as to Senator Clinton.

-- Daniel Loeb, Publisher, Philadelphia Jewish Voice

Jews in Boarding Homes: The Dirty Little Secret

Something happened in late January in South Philadelphia that went almost unnoticed. The 100+ residents and 100+ staff of the Cambridge Retirement Community Homes on the corner of Broad and Snyder were given the 30-day notice required by law to get out. A parachaplain and nine-year volunteer at Cambridge House, I learned it from one of the residents on one of my twice-monthly visits. The residents, a half-dozen or so of whom are Jewish, used to disappointment, were trying to cope. These are people who are not sick enough for a nursing home and too poor for a high-falutin' assisted living facility. The younger individuals often have a degree of developmental delay or psychiatric illness; the old people seem mainly destitute. They wind up in these little for-profit facilities that provide them with some assistance in activities of daily living, medication supervision, and three meals in exchange for most of their SSI check. When I first started visiting in the late 1990s, there was a larger Jewish population. We would have a pretty lively Thursday night Kiddush. I did my best to ignore the younger resident who held nightly Christian fellowships and was always trying to convert the Jewish residents, who would attend any prayer service to alleviate their loneliness and boredom. I tried to make jokes about the mice that frolicked all around the cafeteria in plain sight (they were later eradicated).

Lately the Jewish population at Cambridge House has decreased, which is a good thing. When my frantic emails and calls to the various departments (including the Joan Grossman Center for Chaplaincy and Healing) at Jewish Family and Children's Service were met with noncommittal answers, I kept in close contact with my clients at Cambridge House, and got information from their activities director. The results so far: my “girlfriend,” a developmentally delayed woman who loves teddy bears and who always reminds me when it is time to spring forward/fall back, is being placed with a coworker from her sheltered workshop. It took me days to find out that the placement hadn't been made willy-nilly (I had visions of her being chained in the basement while everybody drinks up her SSI check) but was being handled by Catholic Social Services. Several people from the Mental Health Association of Southeastern PA were working on similar placements for the other Jewish clients; one resident had turned down two other boarding home residences (Cambridge House is the Ritz Carlton compared to some of the other places) but accepted a third. Others are pending. I think the small amount of television coverage of the closing hasn't hurt.

My question is, why are there no Jewish facilities for these folks? Why doesn't the Federation sponsor, for instance, a few spaces at Martin's Run? I for one am grateful that Catholic Social Services are helping some of Cambridge's clientele, but why is JFCS scrambling to recruit these outside services to put people in places where we volunteers hear their complaints about how often they are served pork chops?

The answer, of course, is that these people have no money. They won't leave big bequests. We volunteers learn in our parachaplaincy training to remind our clients that everyone is made in God's image, and that mitzvot are important work whether performed in a beautifully appointed home or in a mouse-infested basement cafeteria. Seeing what befalls these people makes it harder and harder for me to convey that message. When is Federation going to stop depending on a small number of volunteers and social workers, and provide the clean, safe, and kosher facility these destitute people deserve?

-- Libby Cone, Philadelphia, Pennsylvanai

The Rorschach Candidate

All Easter weekend long, we heard radio voices weighing in on Obama. How do white people feel about his blackness, how do black people feel about his whiteness? Absent from the discussion is any awareness of what he’s actually done. Where has he landed his punches? During Obama’s brief political career thus far, what issues has he acted on? Much has been made of his pastor’s disparaging comments about America and 9/11. So is that really Obama? Did he spend his young senate days hanging with the fringe wing of the Democratic party that pushes 9/11 conspiracy theories? Did he lend his voice to the view that 9/11 was Americas just comeuppance? No. If anything, Mr. Obama was a bit timid as a young senator, watching in dismay as his idealistic bits of legislation got watered down over time.

Obama himself is a bit of a Rorschach Test, in that commentators superimpose on him what they think should be there. For this reason, Obama is often linked to Black Liberation Theology. This is silly, because he was never a radical. In his youth, he never went through a Chicago Seven phase, all fist-pumping, Bobby Seal haircuts and incendiary speeches. If anything, Obama was an eager but cautious Harvard law student with an eye on social justice issues, but apt to keep his options open. Not “options open” in a cynical sense, not soft-pedaling his views, but rather, living according to a belief that brash, extreme opinions only alienate those who might otherwise be your allies. Like many young black leaders, Obama saw the limitations of racially-charged politics, the futility of replacing one racial stereotype with another. Thus, he would find ways to discuss inflammatory issues in reasonable, nuanced tones.

It looks like this year, America has a candidate that prefers to shed light, rather than heat. Are we up for it? If Obama loses, it won’t be because he’s black. It’ll be because America’s not ready for a President that talks to you as if you have a brain.

-- Joy Apperson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


The Philadelphia Jewish Voice welcomes the submission of articles and letters to the editor letters @ pjvoice.com. Please include name, address and phone number for identification purposes. We cannot publish every submission we receive. We also reserve the right to edit submissions for length, clarity, grammar, accuracy, and style, though we will never intentionally distort the author's intent.

Editor-in-chief Ben Burrows editor @ pjvoice.com.

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