Only in America

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Guest blogger Simcha Weinstein is the rabbi of the Pratt Institute. His latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, was just released by Barricade Books. His website is www.rabbisimcha.com.

shtick shift, by simcha weinsteinIf the polls are any indication, only an act of God can prevent Barack Obama from becoming the next President of the United States. Given Barack’s meteoric rise from obscurity to worldwide fame, it certainly looks like Somebody up there likes him.

There’s something very Jewish about this man’s rise from poverty and mediocrity to fame and fortune. Millions of Jews came to America with nothing and achieved the American dream. As Obama himself said during his star-making speech, only in America is his story possible. One of Obama’s, and America’s, heroes is Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously reminded the world of how Moses led the Jews to the Promised Land. Today, that Promised Land is America, and millions dream that Obama will usher the nation into a new age of hope and change.

When George Bush was being sworn in back in 2000, hardly anyone knew Barack Obama’s name, let alone how to pronounce it. Yet after one stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, two bestselling autobiographies (written by the tender age of 47), and a short, undistinguished stint as a U.S. senator, he is now poised to take that oath of office himself.

As my overbearing bubbe often reminds me: with a bit of mazel, you can accomplish anything.

Speaking of bubbes, Obama is a big favorite among many Jewish voters, who have literally schlepped across the country, pushing his punim to the masses. Then again, a vocal minority believes the Democratic nominee to be some kind of Muslim “Manchurian Candidate� with secret anti-Israel leanings.

Personally, I don’t dig the notion of schmoozing — “without preconditions� —with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That said, I find Obama an inspirational candidate. Being an Englishman in New York, I’m not eligible to vote, but I would seriously consider casting my ballot for Obama if I could.

It’s one thing (out of many) which has made this election season especially frustrating — watching the fervor and frenzy of the campaigns, and having an opinion that I’m just as vocal about as anyone else — but knowing, in the end, that my vote won’t ultimately be counted, even though I live here now, is a vexing experience.

It’s worth noting that the date Obama delivered his now-famous convention speech was July 27. That coincided with Tisha B’Av, a day of remembrance and mourning -– and, according to the sages, the day the messiah will be born. In other words, it’s a day in which hope will arise out of a history of oppression. Given the history of African-Americans, that coincidence of dates carries the ring of poetic justice.

All it will take is a lot of votes. And a lot of mazel.

Posted on November 4, 2008

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