Monday, May 16, 2011

Congratulations Mr. Mayor

Lo Shinu Es Shmom. They did not change their (Jewish) names. This is one of the things that merited our ancestor’s exodus from Egypt.

Rahm Emanuel - the first Jewish mayor of Chicago - was sworn into office earlier today in Chicago’s Millennium Park at about noon. It was attended by many dignitaries including the Vice -President of the United States. Chief Judge of the Chicago Circuit Court Timothy Evans - himself a former candidate for mayor - swore him in as his family stood by and watched with pride.

I have to admit that while I was watching it on TV it was a moment of pride for me as well. Chicago is not New York. Compared to New York Chicago’s Jewish population is minuscule. So it is not the Jewish vote that got him elected. I don’t know how other Orthodox Jews felt about this day. Many of my friends voted against Mayor Emanuel in the election. They seem to blame Israel’s current problems on him.

I did vote for him however. Although Israel is always at the top of my agenda, Chicago politics have little impact on what happens in Israel. But I would not vote for someone I perceived to be even the slightest bit anti Israel. Unlike many of my Orthodox co-religionists who tend toward the right side of Israeli politics, I do not see the mayor as someone to blame for Israel’s woes.

As a former high ranking member of the Obama Administration he is thought by them to be behind the relatively hard-line position taken against Israeli settlements. Maybe. But while I disagree with the way the Obama administration has dealt with the situation, I do not for a moment believe that either the President or Mayor Emanuel is anti Israel. Agree or disagree - I truly believe both he and the President think they are doing the right thing there. I am absolutely convinced of his love of Israel and his pride as a Jew.

The mayor played down his Judaism during the campaign and in general rarely mentions it. He does not want to be known as the Jewish mayor of Chicago. He wants to be known as simply the Mayor of Chicago. He has instead gone out of his way to pay attention to the ethnic diversity of this great city and did so again today in his inaugural address.

I would have preferred a little more expression of pride in his heritage during the campaign, but I get what he’s trying to do. He does not want his religion to in any way be seen as influencing his decisions and leadership of the city. There is nothing wrong with a leader’s religious values informing his decisions. But I understand the position of those who say that religion should be kept out of politics and government. In fact one does not really contradict the other. I doubt that his values have not in some way been informed by his religion. Even though he is not Orthodox, he does have Jewish values.

Today, however, I saw a bit of that Jewish pride during his inaugural address. In the context of mentioning the ethnic background of other city officials sworn in today, he mentioned that he was the proud son of Israeli Immigrants. For those who don’t know, his father fought in the Irgun of Menachem Begin before the state was founded.

What was particularly gratifying was the wonderful reception he received from the public in attendance. There was a warm outpouring of love there. It was in the air. Everyone there - Black, White, Hispanic… seemed to have a genuine attitude of support and even love for the new mayor. There seemed to be nothing but praise by all segments of Chicago. They all loved his speech. That he is in fact Jewish did not seem to matter in the slightest to these people at all.

They all seemed very happy about him - whether it was a political pundit or just the average person attending the event. I do not recall any political event like this in the past in Chicago. Ethnic and racial bickering used to be the order of the day back in the period between the two Daleys. Not today. Black and white alike were happy that this openly Jewish man was elected the new mayor of the city.

That said I will miss Mayor Daley. At 22 years he holds the record as the longest serving mayor in Chicago history. He has made Chicago a world class city and is beloved by all. Many years ago when his father was mayor and many big cities were failing, Chicago was dubbed ‘The City that Works’. And his father -then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley - was given all the credit. Well today Chicago still works and Mayor Richard M. Daley gets all the credit for that.

One of the interesting features of today’s event was the religious aspects of it. Four members of the clergy were asked to offer a prayer at various points in the ceremony. The Arch Bishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George gave the opening prayer. It could have been given by any Orthodox Rabbi. He never even mentioned the name of Jesus. He spoke only of God as the Creator and ruler of the world. That was extraordinary. A Muslim Cleric spoke and he too spoke in a way that could be embraced by all of us. A black Protestant minister was very inspirational. He too did not mention the name of Jesus.

The only one who did was the Yarmulke wearing Conservative Rabbi Jack Moline who gave the closing prayer. He mentioned him in passing as living at the time of Rav Chanania S’gan HaKohanim. He spoke the words of this great Tanna mentioned in Meseches Avos, more commonly known as Pirkei Avos: Pray for the welfare of the government. For without it we would eat each other alive. He then asked the people present to say Amen. And they did. I couldn’t help noticing that as the camera focused on the crowd during the rabbi’s prayers, many of them clearly not Jewish seemed nonetheless truly absorbed in that moment of prayer – the prayer of a rabbi. After saying Amen he said Mazel Tov.

One more thing. For the first time in Chicago’s history two of its leaders will have children in Jewish day schools. One is 50th ward Alderman Debra Silverstein who was also sworn in today and the other is Mayor Emanuel. For Mrs. Silverstein the school is Orthodox, For Mayor Emanuel the school is Conservative. I would have preferred that it were Orthodox, but it says something about his values that he wants them to have a religious education rather than a completely secular one. I wish them both success in their new jobs. It will not be an easy one.

Now about those potholes…