Op-Ed: Jews must stay on visionary Obama’s side


PASADENA, Calif. (JTA ) — When President Obama took office last year, our country seemed to be teetering. Eight years of war, monstrous deficit spending, a breakdown of diplomacy, and a disdain for science and civil liberties welcomed the new president into office.

A mere 15 months later our nation, while by no means completely healed, surely is on its way out of this dark period. The economy is improving and jobs are slowly beginning to return, stabilized by the needed, albeit not popular, stimulus package.

Doing the hard work that is needed in government is often unpopular, but President Obama does it anyway, and his hard work is paying off.

President Obama passed health care reform, possibly the greatest domestic policy achievement in a generation. He is standing up to the greed and self-interest of Wall Street. He supports a women’s right to choose and successfully appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. He is committed to ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He takes global climate change seriously. He values government transparency. He is working to reintroduce America into the world as a partner for peace and justice after eight years of isolation on the world stage.

And then there is Israel. President Obama has committed himself to the Jewish people by committing himself to working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Has it gone smoothly so far? Certainly not. 

However, since all parties to the conflict agree that there is no military solution, President Obama, a statesman capable of understanding nuance and complexity, is precisely the kind of leader we need now. He has surrounded himself with Middle East experts, including many Jews, and is listening to the American-Jewish community, the majority of whom support a two-state solution.

American Jews overwhelmingly supported Obama in the 2008 election, and the majority continues to support him because his vision for our country — a vision of inclusion, strength through diplomacy, peace and providing for the neediest among us — resonates deeply with Jews. The battle for reform and improvement, especially in the face of fear and misinformation, is a long one that requires perseverance. We would be wise to embrace perseverance when considering whether we should abandon the president after only one year.

Ancient Jewish tradition in Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, teaches that “while we are not called upon to finish the job, we are certainly called upon to never cease from trying.” For Jews, this applies to the task of building a nation that lives up to the ideals of both our Jewish sages and our American founders.

There are voices who feel threatened by the accomplishments of the past half century in the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and the gay rights movement. They decry any effort by government to address serious problems like joblessness, health care and the environment. They seek communities only with those who think and believe as they do. These are the political forces that hope Sarah Palin will run for president.

With the challenges we face, including the threat of Iran to both the United States and Israel, we need an American president who is methodical, smart, courageous and willing to do what is right even if it is not popular.  We need a leader who understands the workings of the world, has the respect of the world and, when needed, can stand up to the world. Being U.S. president is more than ignoring those with whom you disagree and then attacking them if they do not capitulate. Being the president requires vision, courage, perseverance and respect for diversity.

The Jewish community knows that President Obama is this kind of leader, and we should continue to support him in his efforts to better our country and be a true friend to Israel.

(Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and serves on the national advisory board of J Street. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not represent any of the organizations he serves.)

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