Former New York Mayor Ed Koch broke from political ranks and longstanding allegiances to support a Republican in New York’s 9th Congressional District instead of a Democrat.
Notice, I did not use either candidate’s name in describing them. In essence, neither did Koch.
From the get-go of this special election, Koch called for a referendum on President Barack Obama’s Israel policies — policies the former mayor perceives to be vehemently negative. He encouraged all Jews in the 9th District, which has a heavy Jewish population, to elect the Republican candidate to fill the vacant seat. By doing so, Koch asserted, it would tell the president to be wary in his 2012 re-election campaign because the Jewish vote counts. Not once did Koch in his referendum mention one trait, voting record or political stand that either candidate stood for or advocated against. His call was strictly based on political stripe not political record; on affiliation instead of conviction.
I agree that the Jewish vote does count and, historically, Jews show up to vote in higher proportion than other ethnic groups. But encouraging people to vote for someone blind to their record, values or key beliefs is wrong and not very Jewish at all.
We are a few days before the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanah, the New Year, followed shortly after by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These are days of deep introspection and reflection. Key to the idea of the New Year and the days that follow is our responsibility to look not at the vessel, but, rather, the contents within the vessel. Koch, and those that blindly followed his suggestion, were simply choosing a candidate based on their lapel pin being a donkey or an elephant, and not on the beliefs and records that live in the heart underneath that pin. To me, that is the greatest shame of this entire process.
While I am not deeply invested in who wins or loses in the 9th district, I do care deeply about how they win or lose. What happened in the voting booths does not seem to embody the best in our electoral systems or our Jewish values. Further, it is antithetical to the theme for this time of year, which calls to mind Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s insistence that we look at the content of one’s character and not the animal that demarcates his or her political alliance. Voting should not happen blind to a person and myopic to their views. Elections should happen based on character, records, values and even promises. If not, woe to our elected officials and the country they will govern.
When Koch was mayor, he became famous for walking around the streets of the five boroughs and asking, “Hey, how am I doin’?” Today, I would answer, “Lousy!”
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Temple Emanu-El, Closter, N.J.