Monday, October 27, 2008

Dewey by a Landslide

The year was 1948. President Harry Truman was serving out all but one month of the iconic Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth term. Democrats had been governing for sixteen years, had seen the country through the Great Depression and had won World War II. Nevertheless, there was widespread feeling in the country that it was time for a change. Republican Thomas E. Dewey, like FDR a former governor of New York, was challenging Truman. Most polls and experts were predicting Dewey by a landslide. In fact, that is what newspaper headlines – prepared before the election – screamed. But it was not to be. Dewey by a landslide became Truman by a hair.

To listen to some pollsters and pundits today, Obama has the election sewn up and is writing his inaugural address. Other polls have the election seesawing back and forth according to each day’s headlines. We New Yorkers live in one of the bluest of blue states. That is good news for biology teachers and their students, but bad news for supporters of Republican candidates. America’s unique electoral college system makes it worse. No matter how narrow the margin of victory, the winning candidate walks off with all of New York’s electoral votes, and New York has one of the largest numbers of electoral votes. That is how George W. Bush won the election in 2000 while garnering fewer popular votes than Al Gore, and how Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland. It is tempting for supporters of John McCain to think that their votes don’t count and stay home. That would be a big mistake. Two clichés bear repeating here, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and “The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.” Something similar operates in halakha: If you give up hope of finding a lost object, you’ve lost the object even if it’s found; the finder is absolved of his obligation to return it.

Get off your butts next week and go to the polls. Vote for McCain, vote for Obama, write in Donald Duck, but vote. Doing otherwise mocks the sacrifice of better men and women than we, those who fought and died, and who continue to be in harm’s way, so that we could vote. Billions of people around the world do not have that privilege. More will have it if America sees the present struggle through to victory. The world is a smaller place now than ever before. A tyrant on the other side of the world is a danger to our freedom, especially if he controls extensive natural resources. So vote as if your life depends on it. It just might.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Stop the Clock

I am a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing New York City's public school teachers. The following scenario often plays out in labor negotiations. The union has a strict "no contract no work" policy, an agreement is in sight, nobody wants a strike and the deadline is a few mintues away. Both sides agree to "stop the clock" and keep talking. The next morning everybody wakes up to the news that a contract was reached and there will not be a strike.
Something similar happened at the Kingsway Jewish Center yesterday, Yom Kippur. Services were taking longer than expected. We had an hour or less for Ne'ilah. The rabbi led the services instead of the hazan, perhaps in an effort to finish before the fast ended at 7:11. It didn't work; when the "deadline" came we were deep into Selihot. What to do? We stopped the clock. If anybody was angry that the fast was over but Ne'ilah was not, nobody said anything. Few men got up and left. We were absorbed in davening to the extent that we weren't paying attention to our hunger, much like runners in the last mile of the New York City Marathon not noticing their fatigue for all the cheering. The final teki'ah gedolah sounded at about 7:30, followed by a spirited hand-clapping round of Leshanah Ha-ba'ah B'Yerushalayim, followed by Ma'ariv and only then did we go home. Of course, we don't know what kind of "contract" was reached. But we "went the extra mile" (sorry to borrow a metaphor from what Christians call the New Testament), asking Hashem to do the same for us.

May we all have a happy and healthy new year. May we see only good things for ourselves, for Israel and for the Jewish people. The next teki'ah gedolah that we hear will be sounded on the night of Yom Ha'atzma'ut; the end of Ma'ariv being modeled after the conclusion of Yom Kippur. It is also followed by joyous singing of Leshanah Ha-ba'ah B'Yerushalayim. This year, may the shofar be blown by Mashiah on the roof of the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash, televised live via satellite for all the world to see and hear.

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