Project Wonderful

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Taking Back Religion: I Don't Swim in Your Toilet, Please Don't Jew in My Job.

Tonight at sundown begins "Days of Awe," one of the holiest times in the Jewish calendar. This is a time when Jews look back on the year behind us and forward to the year ahead, atone for our sins and ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. For me, as with everything else, it's impossible to separate these events from the election cycle, since I tend to imbue campaigns with an almost spiritual significance anyway. Coincidence that the High Holidays coincide with the final push toward GOTV? Debatable. That said, I want to make an impassioned plea for my rabbi to leave the election out of his sermon this holiday season.

One either under or over reported aspect of the Democratic National Convention (depending on where you get your news) was President Obama's insistence on including God in the Democratic platform. Glossing over my feelings on that as a politico (Anti! What is this, the McCarthy era? There's this little thing called separation of church and state! And what we just do stuff because the right wing dares us to now?) and my feelings on including Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (Pro! Either we recognize a government as legitimate or we don't. Plus Democrats do need the Jewish vote.) I was offended as a religious person. Who are you to assume we have the same concept of God? And who are you to use the Creator of the Universe to score political points? Bringing the election into religion cheapens both.

Last week I went to a seminar at my synagogue to get edJEWcated about the upcoming holidays. The presenter went on a long metaphor about how God is like Barack Obama and we've elected him our leader and now he makes the decisions. What? No! No! No! No! No! No! First of all, I'm pretty sure we didn't elect God. If we did, we certainly wouldn't be Jewish, since we make up .2% of the world's population. (Also, we didn't choose him, he chose us. That's what makes us the Chosen People.) Setting aside my religions beliefs, what really upsets me is that this metaphor absolves us of responsibility in our own government. To pretend that our relationship with our elected officials is one of absolute authority, rather than accountability is antithetical to our democracy. If our leaders have supreme power, then why do we vote? Or even if we vote, why do we engage after the election? Jewish text makes it clear that we have a responsibility to participate in the election regardless of how we vote.

Last year at Rosh Hashana services, the rabbi used our divided Congress as an example of the bickering and fray we should stay above in the upcoming year. I was LIVID. I don't want my religious leaders promoting political apathy! I don't need the rabbi at the one place I go to not think about elections using the sentiment that is the bane of my professional existence to get cheap laughs. I couldn't enjoy the rest of the service. Temple is the one place where I know I can go to concentrate on myself and my emotional well being. When you invoke elections, I feel like I have to be "on."

That brings me to another point. Religious leaders should not use modern political metaphors because they so often get it wrong. At the pre-holiday seminar I attended, the rabbinic fellow leading the conversation said the sentence ,"Let's say God gets 271 votes in the electoral college." My companion must have been relieved that I had lost my voice earlier that week because it kept me from shouting "270! He would only need 270!" It was distracting and it made it hard for me to take the rest of what he was saying seriously.

I realize I may be an anomaly, but for me elections just as much as religion are intensely personal, spiritual, and at the very core of who I am. When you blend the two together in a (no pun intended) unholy marriage, it's almost as if you're robbing me of the right to define myself. Telling me how elections work in synagogue is just as offensive as telling me how God works at the DNC. To borrow a phrase from VEEP, using political metaphors in your sermon is like trying to use a croissant as a dildo: It doesn't work and it makes a big mess. So here's the deal: You don't talk about the election at High Holiday services and I won't kick off a canvass from the bima.

L'Shana Tova,

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