Still Falling for It

I beg to differ with Yochonon Donn’s op-ed piece, “Yes, I Was at the White House” (Dec 24). Davening Minchah in the Red Room at the White House following the Chanukah party is nice, but substantively unimpressive. This is pure form, or “optics” as Obama likes to put it. The president’s articulating the words “pidyon shevuyim” is mere pandering and clever political grandstanding. And yet we fall for it.

Had we his ear, and if Obama really cared about our concern for pidyon shevuyim, this would have been the perfect forum for him to, at long last, announce his pardoning of Jonathan Pollard after some 30 years of U.S. incarceration. After all, here we have a chief executive who unhesitatingly “uses his pen” to issue executive orders when he so desires, even when his directives actually, or arguably, contravene the U.S. Constitution. How difficult would it have been for Obama to sign Pollard’s release, or even that of Mordechai Rubashkin, at that White House Chanukah reception! But why bother, since we Jews fall so easily for trappings of importance and willingly delude ourselves about the president’s friendship just by having “free reign in the East Wing.”

Indeed, it would have behooved one or more of the attendees at that party to politely point out to the president after his trenchant remarks about pidyon shevuyim that American Jews are most troubled by our own two shevuyim who sit in American jails. While we are pleased by Alan Gross’s release from Cuba, we care deeply and ask the president to free Pollard and/or Rubashkin. That would have been a meaningful way to test whether we have “Obama’s ear.” Unfortunately, the well-known passuk from the Navi Yeshayahu comes to mind: “meishiv chachamim achor…”

And, we will leave aside the quite overt ongoing hostility this president has shown to Israel in its struggles for survival, and to its prime minister during the past six years — hardly the treatment one would expect from a friendly head of state. So much for Obama’s attentiveness and “ear” to Jewish concerns!

No, folks — to employ one of Obama’s favorite expressions — there is no indication that this president would have lifted a finger to do more than did FDR in helping Jews during the Holocaust. The only difference is that Obama is willing to engage in “smoke and mirrors” and Madison Avenue tactics — all post-FDR political developments.

It is about time that we Orthodox Jews learn to accurately and maturely assess political realities and forego being naively farglutzt, bedazzled, by “show and tell.” Regrettably, Mr. Donn’s reaction to the White House reception demonstrates that we have yet very far to go as a community.

Rabbi Daniel Greer

Menahel, Yeshiva of New Haven