Monday, May 01, 2017

Orthodox Jews – the New Jewish Elite

Recent White House meeting attended by Agudah
I have to admit that there is one positive thing about Donald Trump that is undeniable: His relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community. To put it succinctly, it is unprecedented. I also have to admit that I did not see that coming. Perhaps I should have based on what I had heard about him before he even thought about becoming President. Like the following story told by the son of a rabbi that became very close to Trump’s father. From the Yated: 
(Fred) Trump was very moved by the idea my father expressed and the two became close friends. Fred proceeded to donate a piece of real estate for the shul, and he even made a very generous donation so that a magnificent shul building could be built.” 
According to Rabbi Wagner, not only did Fred Trump donate the plot of land where the shul was built and cover the expenses of the construction, but he also attended the ceremony at which the cornerstone was laid. “Fred was very moved by my father’s speech at the ceremony.  
He was highly impressed, and he became my father’s close friend. They met again and again, and over time they developed a close relationship. Trump viewed my father as a holy man and a great sage. He used to call him ‘my rabbi.’ 
It should not be a surprise that anyone raised in a home like that is going to have some of that rub off on him. There are other stories about Donald Trump’s generosity to Orthodox Jews that long predated his decision to run for President.

I am not here to ‘Kasher’ the President. I have been pretty clear – and consistent - about his personal failings.  Failings so bad that I voted for his opponent despite the fact that I would not have voted for her had just about anyone else run against her. That has not changed.

And yet a story about ‘our arrival’ in the Forward made me smile.  Anyone that is Orthodox should take great pride in that – no matter what side of the political aisle they are on. But even more than pride is the the access that Orthodox Jewish lobbies like the OU and Agudah have. Although I have had some issues with Agudah, I have not made secret my support and appreciation for Agudah’s public service on behalf of the Jewish people. 

Our newfound access has given them a far larger role in policy decisions that affect all Jews. Especially Orthodox Jews where matters of educational expense may very well be the top agenda item of any parent with children in a parochial school. 

Whether that will translate to actual financial relief for tuition paying parents remains to be seen. But for the first time there is actually a chance that it may happen. School choice is a position that the OU and Agudah have both lobbied for. We now have an administration that agrees. They have chosen an education secretary that favors it – and has in the past worked with Orthodox advocacy groups towards that goal.

The Forward calls us ‘a new Jewish elite’. One that has replaced the last Jewish elite: liberal Jewish denominations and liberal Jewish organizations. Whereas Reform and Conservative oriented organizations had the ear of the last President, Orthodox Jews have the ear of the new President.  It isn’t just Agudah and the OU. It is also organizations like AIPAC and NORPAC. In fact according to the Forward, modern Orthodox Jews seem to have the greatest influence of all: 
Adding weight to the Modern Orthodox circle of influence is another New Jersey activist - Morton Friedman, who was recently selected to serve as the next president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Friedman will be only the second Orthodox Jew to serve at AIPAC’s helm.
He was previously NORPAC’s vice president. AIPAC has proven in the past its ability to choose top leaders in line with the president occupying the White House. After Obama’s election in 2008, the lobby turned to fellow Chicago liberal Lee Rosenberg to serve as president. Now it is reaching out to Mort Friedman, an Orthodox conservative who may be closer to White House Jewish players.
The Zionist Organization of America, which was largely ignored by the Obama White House, is also seeing its star rise under the new administration. It was the first to score a meeting with a member of the Trump team after the election. President Mort Klein met in New York with an aide, Anthony Scaramucci. He left the White House shortly after.
The Orthodox Union raised its profile by lobbying in support of David Friedman’s confirmation. Chabad welcomed Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Washington... 
This may not make the left happy. Nor heterodox movements. Nor the J-Street crowd. They all had the ear of the last President and sympathized with his perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  I am sure that they see this development as a disaster for Israel and the Jewish people. They believe that Israel is doomed if the right wing has its way. 

And they can’t be happy by the turn of events in America whereby Orthodox Jews were once thought to be on the precipice of extinction ( Samuel Rosenman, FDRs Jewish adviser indicated to him about a group of Orthodox rabbis that had traveled to see him during the Holocaust). Instead Orthodox Jews have grown to be the dominant Jewish force in America. It is heterodoxy that may now be on the precipice of extinction. Something their leaders are actually worried about.

I say all of this without any sense of triumphalism. It is simply the truth. A fact of life. The Jewish world as it exists today. But as a member of Orthodoxy I can’t say I am disappointed by our own success.  

I am actually quite proud of what we have accomplished. I am equally proud of my country, the United States of America. Where else could this have happened, if not in a country where one of its founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, knew how to recite the Ten Commandments.... by heart.... in Hebrew?!

This truly shows God’s providence.

What about the fears that America’s turn to the right wing in Israel spells doom for Israel as a democracy AND a Jewish state? I can just hear all the naysayers: 

Pluralism is dead. Orthodox extremism has taken over. Non Orthodox Jews will stop supporting Israel. Israel will become an Apartheid State. Palestinians will suffer. Israel is doomed. It’s over for Israel. It’s just a matter of time.

There are some who  will say that it is not a blessing that Jews of any kind have such power. Have we learned nothing from history? If anything goes wrong, the Jews will be blamed. World War 3? It’s the Jews fault. An economic depression? It’s the Jews fault. Better Jews should not be so involved lest things go horribly wrong and we are blamed. We don’t need a another Holocaust.

I can’t really address these concerns. Other than to say that things are different now. I Know… we’ve heard it all before. And then the bottom drops out. Didn't the 500 year 'Golden Era' of Spain end with the Inquisition? Wasn't Frankfurt, Germany considered the new Jerusalem only to end with the Holocaust? Why should things be any different now?  What a fool I must be, they will say.

Well anything is possible. But I really do believe that America is unlike any other country in the history of the world. Why that is the case is something I’ve dealt with many times and beyond the scope of this post.  And then there is one more thing. One that outweighs everything else. God is watching over us. So I am not all that worried.